Arkells have really dominated Canadian airwaves over the last while, and it shows. With this current tour of theirs churning up enough demand to warrant two shows in some markets, their hard work over quite a few years is paying off now in droves. I was around to attend the first of two shows in Vancouver, and right out of the gate, these boys are bright and energetic, getting the crowd ramped right up and legitimately bouncing/dancing the whole night. The massive singalong that ensued to hit single “11:11,” introduced by telling us that it was 11:11 somewhere (actually it was just slightly less than an hour away from that in Vancouver at the time) actually prompted lead vocalist Max Kerman to say, “wow!” Kerman spoke a lot to the crowd, and the running theme of the night seemed to be the fact that it was a Monday, and he wanted to make sure that the room was not in a Monday mood, and instead was putting in what he called, “a Friday night effort.” He repeatedly urged dancing, giving the infamous bouncy Commodore Ballroom floor a workout, said if we weren’t sore the next morning, we weren’t doing our jobs, and even expected that some would call in sick the next morning to work. After trying early in the set to raise a ruckus from the audience, being met with what he felt wasn’t quite enough gusto, it seemed he was about to give up on us. “We’ve got another show tomorrow,” he said, dismissing the room with a hand and briefly leaving the stage (He was joking of course, returning shortly, and even bringing the play up near the end of the show).
Many things occurred throughout the 2 hour set that made this more than just some dudes playing the songs straight off their albums. Kerman spoke about hearing tunes on the radio that make you think of other songs so much that they might be related, like a cousin or a nephew. In the middle of one song, the band easily slipped in a few lines of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” as being just one of those songs. A bold claim perhaps. A couple songs later, they managed to get the room hollering a bit of Ramones Hey Ho Let’s Go to intro another tune. Arkells have been travelling across Canada, but had the day off in Vancouver and so spent the day running some errands. Kerman described us the scene of keys player Anthony Carone, a huge Billy Joel fan, sitting in the shotgun position and scanning the radio dial, looking for any Billy Joel he could find on the local airwaves. It was his lucky day as he evidently found five Joel songs and was deemed one happy camper. Carone’s claim to know every Billy Joel song was put to the test when Kerman challenged him by saying he bet Carone couldn’t even play three of them. So, all eyes on Carone as Kerman shouted out random Joel songs “You May Be Right”, “Uptown Girls,” and “Anthony’s Song,” of course), which Carone then flawlessly played. Nailed it.
They keep the energy high all night. The amount of running around is astounding. Even this band’s slow songs seem pretty uptempo. They ended one of the slower tunes, “Kiss Cam,” with a pretty nice a capella. These boys can sing! Later on, echoing the recent Blue Rodeo show in which the audience was called upon to sing along and dubbed the Greater Vancouver Mixed Choir, here the crowd was called on for the same and referred to as the Nondenominational Gospel Choir of Vancouver. Aren’t we special? In another attempt to get everyone bodysore and calling in sick to work the following day, we were later instructed to dance like no one’s watching. Close eyes, in the dark… and to aid this, the room and stage lights plunged into darkness, only shortly lifting to blacklight, and the crowd did indeed dance.
The band left the stage, and the audience stayed fast, hollering for more. Unbeknownst to most of them, at their back on the sound booth, which was positioned 2/3 of the way back in the room, a couple of techs were quietly busy propping mics up on a small platform. Kerman, Carone and guitarist Mike DeAngelis quickly appeared, where they did an acoustic rendition of “Coffee.” They then scurried back to the green room door while drummer Tim Oxford and bassist Nick Dika played a rolling jam. Also according to Kerman, there are three ingredients to a good rock show, which in his mind are shaking your ass, losing your voice, and for some reason, snapping your fingers. The first of the 6-song encore’s special guests was Tyler Bancroft, from Vancouver group Said The Whale. He was introduced after a rambling lead-up by Kerman about how good Vancouver bands are, citing Dear Rouge and Yukon Blonde among them. Claiming that when either band is in each other’s town, they are in that band’s audience, he took front and centre stage to sing while the Arkells guys swapped around instruments a bit. Kerman then spoke about Arkells’ first time in Vancouver, at what I gather was a New Music West showcase, based on the fact that they played a ‘festival’ and it was at the Penthouse, a nearby strip club. While I did not attend NMW in 2008 or its waning season or two following, for the 7 years prior, it was a mainstay of my music year, and the parties they threw at the Penthouse were always the most fun. Everyone tended to gravitate there towards the end of the night, and they should be counted as pretty lucky to have scored that as a festival slot! They sent a shoutout to Erik Hoffman, aka Jigs, who helped book in this show for them, and then hauled out both opening bands Dreamers and Modern Space to join them on stage for a bananas version of “Got My Mind Set On You,” best known by ex-Beatle George Harrison’s version. Some members of the bands went for a crowd surf, various people took over vocals, and overall there was a lot of mayhem and bouncing about on stage, hugs and crazy faces pulled. Clearly these guys have all gotten along well on tour. Jumping from one Beatle to another, something that did not make its way onto the set list, Kermon just looked over at the room and said, “F*ck it, let’s do ‘John Lennon.'” Following that tune, they ended the encore unsurprisingly with their breakthrough hit, “Leather Jacket.” We had a hint about this when, just before the song started, Dreamers singer Nick Wold popped out and dropped his leather jacket at the base of Kerman’s mic. He quickly put it on, neatly segueing in by discussing how it is to drive across Canada in the winter, in the cold, when finally you get over the mountains into Vancouver and can take off those parkas and put on something a little more comfortable. And off they went, bouncing that Commodore floor one last time.
I took a seat and waited for the pile of people trying to get out of the venue to thin out a bit, and noticed that Dika had popped back out to hand set lists off the stage floor to a few fans who were still clinging to the barricade at the front and have a quick chat with them. Nice guys, fun show.