Concerts Concerts Arkells Put On Polished, Fun Show

Arkells Put On Polished, Fun Show

Arkells - Michigan Left
We Barbarians
Sound Academy in Toronto, ON
December 3, 2011

Review by: Lee Fraser

Arkells played a packed Sound Academy and put on a show that could have us saying, “We were there!” a decade from now.


It was your typical pre-show atmosphere; influences of the headlining band were being piped in (Joel Plaskett, Motown, 80's pop); twenty-somethings were playing Angry Birds; and the merch table was doing brisk business. Little did we all know what we were about to witness.

Arkells have been steadily increasing their fan base, moving up to later time slots at festivals and playing bigger venues each year. With opportunities to be in the spotlight being showered on them (opening for Them Crooked Vultures at the ACC, performances at the 2010 Junos and at the Grey Cup this year), Arkells have become more polished and professional. It was not all that long ago that the crowd at an Arkells show contained just a small group in front of the stage at the Tattoo Rock Parlour. On this night, though, it was the 3000 plus capacity Sound Academy.

The show put on by the guys in Arkells on Saturday night was a show you would expect from a mature and very successful group. They started out with the incredibly catchy title track from their newly released album, Michigan Left. Hands were pumping and masses of people were singing along. The night was off to a fever pitch high. A smooth transition into "Ballad of Hugo Chavez" and it was evident that there were a lot of fans of both the old and new material in the house. Even a song like "Where U Going", with no video and no radio play, garnered a lot of audience participation.

As you would expect from a well-established band, Arkells called upon plenty of local talent to add texture and fullness to a few tunes. Nick Rose of Sweet Thing joined in on "Champagne Socialist" and stuck around for the current crowd favourite, "Kiss Cam", which had a backing choir made up of Robin Hatch, Dave Monks (of Tokyo Police Club), Kathleen Edwards and Luke Lalonde (of Born Ruffians). "Kiss Cam" ended in a big a cappella sing along that was almost spiritual.

Kathleen Edwards stayed on stage to perform her part of "Agent Zero", and in an unusual twist of events, Edwards then played one of her own tunes, "Back To Me" with Arkells accompaniment.

Once in a while, Max Kerman strutted his way to stage left, setting all the girls to screaming. Half way through "Pullin' Punches", the band broke into "Lonely Boy" by The Black Keys for a few bars. The set ended with "Deadlines" and "Oh! The Boss Is Coming", giving Max plenty of opportunity to get the crowd involved in top-of-the-lungs singing.

For the encore, Arkells and a stage full of top-notch local talent played the high energy "On Paper", followed up with a cover of "You Make My Dreams Come True" by Hall and Oates. Covering this kind of song was a good showcase for the new guy, Anthony Carone (keys, vocals). Graham Wright (of Tokyo Police Club) added a flourish of sax to the final song of the night, the infectious "John Lennon", a song that has perhaps become their biggest hit.

At the rate of their increasing success over the past four years, Arkells are headed for the Molson Amphitheatre next year. It's easy to see them playing to a sold out crowd, complete with back-up singers and a horn section. Oh yeah, bring it on.

We Barbarians

We Barbarians are a three-piece indie band from Brooklyn. They put on a very high energy show, despite not being known by the vast majority of the audience. Their sound is a little reminiscent of U2, with a stage presence that has a similar energy and rhythm as Sam Roberts Band. They are playing The Drake on Saturday, December 10 and are definitely worth checking out.