When the Arkells take the stage Friday, Feb. 10, the band will be greeted by about 10,000 fans in Hamilton
When the five members of the Arkells started planning a homecoming concert to celebrate the release of the band’s most recent album “Morning Report,” they knew they should go large.
They had just sold out back-toback nights at Toronto’s hallowed Massey Hall with total attendance of more than 5,000. So it stood to reason they could do at least as well for a Feb. 10 show in their hometown of Hamilton.
But the only indoor venue the city has to offer for a crowd that size is FirstOntario Centre, the cavernous hockey arena still known to most Hamilton denizens as “Copps.”
Fortunately, FirstOntario Centre is a flexible building with a number of different concert configurations ranging in audience size from 4,000 to 18,000. The band chose one that would use about half the arena’s seats as well as a general admission floor area. They’d start out with modest expectations — just the lower bowl, and, if demand required, up the second tier sections, as well.
“We thought maybe we should do the arena with a setup for about 4,000 people,” says Arkells lead singer Max Kerman, relaxing in a window seat at the Pincecone Coffee Co. “But we blew through those tickets really quickly, so we decided to open it up. Then we just kept opening up more sections.”
By Christmas the seat count had crossed the 8,000 mark. On Tuesday, ticket sales had reached capacity for the configuration the band had chosen. The venue announced the show was sold out.
When the Arkells take the stage Friday, Feb. 10, they will be greeted by about 10,000 fans.
“It’s the first arena show that we’ve headlined and it’s the most tickets we’ve ever sold for a single gig with our name at the top,” Kerman says almost grudgingly, as if the admission may pierce the band’s bubble of success.
It’s taken more than 10 years, four record albums and just as many Juno Awards … but the Arkells have finally reached the big time.
It’s a rare feat for a Hamilton rock band, selling out the city’s biggest venue. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any other band that has done it. Alexisonfire accomplished it a few years back, but those guys are really a St. Catharine’s band. Other than that … nada.
Even when you start looking at the great Hamilton bands of the pre-Copps years — namely Teenage Head and Crowbar — it’s pretty hard to come up with the kind of success the Arkells are enjoying at the moment.
Sure, Teenage Head caused a “PUNK ROCK RIOT” at Ontario Place in 1981, but that was a free concert. And sure, Crowbar’s “Oh What a Feeling” is one of the most memorable Canadian rock songs of all time, but Kelly Jay and the band were playing mostly junior hockey rinks and high schools. When Crowbar played Maple Leaf Gardens, they were merely the opening act for Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
So enjoy this moment Arkells, you can rightfully place yourself among Hamilton’s all-time rock royalty.
That is not something the Arkells ever expected back in 2005 when the group played its first gig (under the name Charlemagne) at a battle of the bands on the McMaster campus. Kerman, a Toronto native who came to Hamilton to study political science, was living in a Mac residence at the time.
It was at Mac that the band came together, with Kerman meeting guitarist Mike DeAngelis, drummer Tim Oxford, bassist Nick Dika and original keyboard player Dan Griffith, who left the band in 2012 to be replaced by Anthony Carone.
“I still remember the first time we played off campus,” says Kerman. “It was our second gig. We opened for (Hamilton rap rockers) Frantic City at The Casbah. I couldn’t sleep the night before because I was so excited. It was the same stage where Joel Plaskett had just played. ‘Holy shit,’ I thought, ‘I get to step on the same stage that Joel Plaskett just played on.’
“We definitely never dreamed of playing Copps. We were always very realistic about how hard it is to be in a full-time working band doing original songs.”
Kerman says that by the time the Morning Report tour reaches Hamilton, the Arkells will be “a welloiled machine.” As they did for the Massey Hall shows, they’ll expand the band into a 10-piece with backup singers (the Arkettes) and a horn section to give their Motown-influenced sound more oomph.
The Arkells recently completed a swing through the United States, opening for British folk-punk star Frank Turner and his band the Sleeping Souls. On Feb. 1, the Arkells kicked off a cross-Canada tour in Vancouver, with Turner opening for them. It’s been a good trade-off with Turner introducing the Arkells to his U.S. fans and the Arkells introducing Turner to their Canadian fans.
The two bands have become close friends. During the Massey Hall shows, the Arkells invited Turner on stage to join them for a medley of Bruce Springsteen songs.
“We’ve never toured with more of a kindred spirit,” Kerman says. “He is all the things that I love about performing and putting on a live show, people singing, people dancing, encouraging the event to be a real community affair. That’s what he preaches as well.”
The respect is mutual. Turner included “Morning Report” among his Top-10 albums of 2016.
“They’re slaying the crowd every night and it’s a joy to watch from the side of the stage,” says Turner, who will perform a DJ set at Hamilton’s This Ain’t Hollywood following the Feb. 10 Arkell’s concert at FirstOntario Centre.
THE ARKELLS’ MAX KERMAN, LEFT, AND ENGLISH SINGER FRANK TURNER PLAY AT MASSEY HALL IN NOVEMBER.
Arkells: From left Nick Dika (bass), Anthony Carone (keyboards), Mike DeAngelis (guitar), Max Kerman (lead vocals, guitar), and Tim Oxford (drums).
Arkells recently sold out two shows at Toronto’s Massey Hall.