Way back in 2008, I picked up a free promo CD at a booth on my university campus. It was a mix of songs by 6 different Canadian artists. Though most I didn’t much care for, one stood out. Their music was fun, lighthearted, and downright groovy. Over the years, they toured relentlessly, playing all manner of free events, promotional shows, and pretty much anything to get their name out there. They worked hard, and it all paid off: Arkells are now a household name in the Canadian indie rock scene. I tell this story for two reasons: first, because it warms my heart to know that hard work and perseverance pay off; and second, because I feel like it is 2010 again and I am seeing Arkells for the first time. The Elwins are quickly becoming one of Canada’s must-know bands: their social media game is on point, their music is contagiously fun, and they are some of the most genuine and relatable performers in the industry.
Opening for the Elwins were The Nursery and The Kents. The Nursery are a wonderful band that manages to be simultaneously danceable and relaxing. Between the trippy projections over the members and singer Alex Pulec’s emotional crooning, it’s hard not to get lost in the music. They are the sort of band that never leaves a breath or takes a break; One song flows effortlessly into the next, and there’s always something going on, someone holding that last chord or riffing between songs. Their sound really got the night started well – It just makes you feel good to watch. Also, protip: watch keyboardist Jared Roth. That guy gets really into it.
Next up was the Kents. After a very lengthy sound check and replacing a couple of cables that were acting up, they smashed right in. Their tendency to sprawl into long solos and jams caught my ear immediately, but their ability to engage the crowd was what kept me in. It was like the crowd forgot this was still an opening act of an indie show, and thus that we were supposed to stand perfectly still, bob our heads, and at the end of the set say “not bad” regardless of how good it was. By song two, the crowd was clapping, dancing, and singing along to songs they’d probably never heard. It’s just that kind of earworm-esque indie pop that catches on instantly and holds you tight.
If the night had ended right there, I would have left extremely satisfied. Those two bands on their own were incredibly fun and entertaining, and would have been worth every penny. The fact that the Elwins came on soon after was only a (very welcome) bonus. If the Kents are professionals at working a crowd, the Elwins are masters of the trade. While they could easily sit back and rely on their super fun, high-energy sound to work the crowd for them, they don’t; instead, they put their all into the show. By song 3, every single one of them was sweating bullets. By song 5, 3 people had already crowd-surfed. Bassist Frankie Figliomeni spent a good quarter of the show wandering the stage and interacting with his fellow band mates, including many songs jamming out with keyboardist/guitarist Feurd Francesco. Both Francesco and lead singer Matthew Sweeney came into the crowd to fraternize and give copious amounts of high fives. They are openly in love with their fans, and it shows. Keep your eyes on these guys, they have a great future ahead of them.