Home­town he­roes

When the Arkells take the stage Fri­day, Feb. 10, the band will be greeted by about 10,000 fans in Hamil­ton

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - GRA­HAM ROCKINGHAM grock­ing­ham@thes­pec.com 905-526-3331 | @Rock­atTheSpec

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.

UNIVER­SAL CANADA

Arkells: From left Nick Dika (bass), An­thony Carone (key­boards), Mike DeAn­ge­lis (gui­tar), Max Kerman (lead vo­cals, gui­tar), and Tim Ox­ford (drums).

JESS BAUMUNG, UNIVER­SAL

Arkells re­cently sold out two shows at Toronto’s Massey Hall.

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