Homegrown band revels in ‘the biggest headline show we’ve ever had’
It was eight years ago, almost to the day. The Arkells were at the old Pepper Jack Café on King William Street, playing a final hometown show before embarking on a cross-Canada tour to plug their newly released debut album, “Jackson Square.”
About 100 local fans showed up to send them off. It was an amazing night. The band played with Springsteen-like energy. The sparks that came off that stage were almost visible. And there were all these incredible songs — these fresh faced Mac grads were singing about Hugo Chavez, John Lennon, champagne socialists and romance in the food court.
Everyone there that night knew this band was going places.
Fast forward to Friday night at FirstOntario Centre, just a couple of blocks from where the Pepper Jack once stood.
Four albums and four Juno Awards later, the guys are pretty much the same — Max Kerman up front, Nick Dika on bass, Mike DeAngelis on lead guitar and Tim Oxford on drums; only the keyboard player, Anthony Carone, has changed.
Still the same energy, still the same smart songs — always a cut above the rest — just a lot more of them.
But instead of 100 fans, there are 10,000. Welcome home, Arkells.
Some longtime Arkells fans feel the band has left its garage roots and entered the world of pop. On record, they might be right. The new album “Morning Report” is low on social commentary, big on beats and hooks.
But onstage, the Arkells haven’t lost any of their punching power. As a matter of fact they’ve learned a few tricks and built up their confidence, making those new radiofriendly songs take on arena-rock personas.
To add a little more punch, the band brought along two backup singers (the Arkettes) and a threepiece horn section.
“This is the biggest headline show we’ve ever had,” Kerman said after singing the band’s current hit single, “My Heart’s Always Yours.” “This is way bigger than we could ever have imagined.”
Kerman has become the consummate front man, bringing the audience into the show from the outset.
It wasn’t a difficult task. Everyone in the crowd seemed to know the lyrics to each of the 23 songs the Arkells performed during their two-hour set. Dance party. Maximum fun. Sweat and spill beer.
“If I jump, will you catch me?” Kerman asked halfway through the opening number, “A Little Rain.”
Sure enough he dived into the audience, microphone in hand, still singing as he surfed across the front rows. It was a jump all five members of the band repeated near the end of the night during their pre-encore closer, “Private School.”
They pulled songs from all four albums, reaching back to “Jackson Square” for their first hits “Oh, the Boss Is Coming” and “Ballad of Hugo Chávez.”
In the middle of “Pullin’ Punches,” they brought out opening act Frank Turner to take the lead vocals on a medley of Motown songs — Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher,” the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and the Temptations’ “My Girl.”
There was also plenty from the latest album “Morning Report,” including a raucous “Drake’s Dad” and a gentle acoustic version of “And Then Some.”
For those who like their Arkells a little more political, Kerman dropped an LRT plug into the song “Cynical Bastards;” dedicated “Whistleblower” to Spectator reporter Molly Hayes, who is married to guitarist DeAngelis and, during “Hung Up,” gave a shoutout to “all the Hamilton women” who participated in the Washington protests against Trump.
This was an important concert for the Arkells, validation that 10 years of hard work has paid off and proof that good things will happen if you write strong material, refuse to compromise and make sure your audience has a great time while doing it.
But it’s by no means the pinnacle for this band that has remained so loyal to its adopted city of Hamilton.
The Arkells is a band that has gotten better with every album and every concert. There’s no reason why we can’t expect more albums, more Junos and more sold out arenas across the country.
Welcome home, Arkells. Let’s do it again real soon.
Arkells members, from left, Anthony Carone, Max Kerman, Tim Oxford (holding phone), Nick Dika and Mike DeAngelis are silhouetted against thousands of cellphone lights during the band’s sold-out show at FirstOntario Centre Friday. How did the group fare at their biggest ever headline show on home turf? Read Graham Rockingham’s review on G4. For a behind-the-scenes look, check out Tuesday’s Go section.
Max Kerman of Arkells crowd surfs during the band’s sold-out show at First Ontario Centre Friday night.