Photographs by Janine Van Oostrom
I’ve been to a lot of concerts and I’ve learned that sometimes you walk away a little disappointed, sometimes you walk away satisfied and if you’re lucky you’ll walk away utterly blown away. If you’ve ever seen Arkells live you will know that you will always walk away thinking “that’s the best concert I’ve ever been to”. Now I am not one to throw around the term “best live band” because I find that the post concert high can often point you in the direction of the show you just walked away from. Yet all of that logic is out of the window when it comes to Arkells; in my honest opinion they really are the best live band around.
Now I know that’s a pretty heavy statement but I would never say it if I didn’t have the evidence to back it up. There are plenty of live bands that are exceptional but in my experience none quite really like Arkells and here’s why. During the very first song “A Little Rain (A Song For Pete)” lead singer Max Kerman already found himself surfing in the crowd, and that was only the first song. Arkells have a way of connecting with their crowds that I have never seen another band do. I honestly lost count how many times Kerman stood on the barrier and embraced the fans mid song or pointed to members of the crowd and sang directly to them. He has a way of making every single fan feel like he appreciates them being there in the most genuine way.
On top of the intimate connection with the fans you can feel the love that Arkells have for performing; a love that they bring to the stage with them every single night. They play their old songs with the passion as if it was written yesterday and their news ones equally so. You can feel the emotion in all of the slower songs like “Passenger Seat”, the acoustic rendition of “And Then Some”, and “My Heart’s Always Yours”. Yet you also feel the immense energy in the songs like “11:11”, “Whistleblower” and “Private School”.
Yet all of that isn’t what completely sets them apart from the rest of the bands around; it’s the little things that make the shows truly unforgettable. One of the most incredible moments of the night happened during “Cynical Bastards” when Kerman turned to the crowd and said “I want all of you to dance like nobody’s watching during this next chorus”. Then just as the chorus came around the entire room went pitch black as the band played; I’m sure for the next 20 seconds of that song everyone danced like they were the only ones in the room. Another little touch is the small anecdotes that Kerman throws in throughout the set, whether it be the story about two friends and a tent during “Never Thought This Would Happen” or opening for The Tragically Hip before launching into The Hip song “My Music at Work” (a side note: you could point out every Canadian in the room as they sang along to the cover). Those little stories give the crowd a laugh or a dose of nostalgia but most importantly they made the crowd feel that much more connected to the band on stage. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference; like band huddling together to perform an acoustic version of their song, or legs thrown up onto keyboards during piano solos, or Kerman’s quirky dancing.
All in all Arkells are one of the many bands that make me proud to be a Canadian. It’s been one of the most wonderful things watching them grow from playing small bars to soon to be headlining shows in the First Ontario Center. Arkells have put out four superb albums, played a countless number of shows, and put everything into every show they play. If their live shows tells you anything it is that they deserve every bit of success that has come their way.