Looking back on years of Arkells concerts, closing in Kingston

Graduating student remembers the last four years and the shows she's attended along the way

Max Kerman of the Arkells performing on Nov. 16 at the Leon's Centre.
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The Arkells never fail to put on a good show. Whether it’s singing, dancing, performing, or rallying against injustice, this Hamilton band knows how to captivate an audience.

On Nov. 16, the Arkells played the Leon’s Centre to a packed audience on the final stop of the Rally Cry tour for 2019.

With a strong repertoire of alternative rock anthems, the Arkells’ triumphant return to Kingston marks a leap forward in the band’s success. 

Since their last performance at the Leon’s Centre in 2017, they have released their new award-winning album, Rally Cry, and embarked on a Canadian tour of the same name. Over the past few years, they’ve acquired a dedicated fanbase. 

I first saw the Arkells perform live two years ago in November here in Kingston, but I wasn’t there as a fan.

I went to celebrate my friend’s birthday and we arrived two hours early to stand in line, at her request, despite the snow and sub-zero temperature. 

We managed to get close enough to the stage that when front man Max Kerman surfed the crowd, our hands were helping to support him.

At the time, I could only sing along to a few of their songs, but I left the concert a die-hard fan. Watching Kerman belt out each lyric with an unbridled passion hooked me from the very first song.

 

Photo by Amelia Rankine 

 

Since then, we’ve seen the Arkells perform in Toronto twice, snagging tickets as soon as each concert was announced and travelling hours to catch their concerts.

When I found out that the Arkells were returning to Kingston this fall—my final year at Queen’s—it felt like a fitting farewell to my undergrad.

Whether I’m studying to their acoustic sets or bopping to new song “Eyes on the Prize” on my walk to campus in the morning, their music has been the soundtrack to my life in Kingston.

But the political messages in their lyrics make their songs more than just entertainment. Songs about the Women’s March, investigative journalism, and corrupt politicians make for music that isn’t just escapism—it’s tuned into the concerns and anxieties of our generation. 

The Arkells don’t hide their political views from their fans. Instead, they use their influential voice and dedicated following to take a strong stance in the fight against injustices.

At the concert, their setlist featured some of their most political songs, including, “Whistleblower,” “People’s Champ,” and, naturally, “Rally Cry.” Whether it’s LGBTQ+ activism, the climate crisis, or workers’ rights, their message of support is clear.

It comes out of a love and support for their fanbase. The Arkells have three rules for their audience: sing your heart out, dance, and take care of one another

Their main goal is making sure the audience is having fun. Cowboy hats, crowd surfing, and romantic slow dancing punctuate the concert. This level of audience interaction proves how much the band cares that their fans are enjoying themselves.

A new bit the band incorporated into the show saw Kerman bring out a Bell payphone and hold it up to his ear. This was part of their toll-free request line that allows fans to call and ask the band to play their favourite song.

One fan requested “A Little Rain,”and when they began playing, an audience member lent Kerman a bright yellow rain poncho to wear.

 

Photo by Amelia Rankine

 

The Arkells never fail to put on a fun show referencing current events and social issues without pandering. The concert itself felt small and intimate, even though the crowd filled most of the Leon’s Centre.

The band maintained the best qualities of their earlier shows while upping the level of production. Two years after seeing the show, the biggest difference is not in style, quality or gimmicks, but in how the audience sang along to every word in their setlist­—the choir acting like impromptu back-up singers for the band.

Before the Nov. 16 show, I expected to be transported back to my second year at Queen’s through the sheer power of nostalgia, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, I realized that sometimes change is a good thing. Since that first time at their show, I’ve had the best years of my life at Queen’s.

Seeing the Arkells for the fourth time reminded me that singing, dancing and taking care of one another are some pretty great rules to live by.

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