Bandshell Park in Toronto, ON
August 29, 2012
Review by: Colton Eddy
Photos by: Pete Nema
With their crochet and tank tops on, an audience packed with a blend of die-hard fans and tourist families weren't readily prepared for the organized chaos that Arkells had in store.
This gig at the Canadian National Exhibition's Bandshell had been billed as an ideal last night of summertime. And it made sense. Arkells' repertoire consists of songs about campfire romance, baseball games and roadtrips across provincial highways — a recipe for a Canadian summer.
Their songs are deceptively simple anthemic sing-a-longs with a deeper sentiment. Like The Tragically Hip before them, cleverly name checked in "Kiss Cam", their sun-drenched lyrics capture the complications of intimate relationships while deconstructing political conversations. Not to mention that both artists prepped the soundtrack for most of Ontario dock rocking long-weekends. But that balance of personal and social-consciousness is done in such subtlety, that the pre-teens singing along are probably learning more from these three-minute songs than they have learned in school. They just don't know it yet.
On the many occasions that I've seen Max Kerman, Mike DeAngelis, Nick Dika, Tim Oxford and Anthony Carone strap on their dancing shoes, they have never, ever failed to soak every bit of energy out of the audience. These reigning Group of The Year Juno winners defend their title by bringing a family-friendly, high adrenaline show with their influences on their road warrior sleeves. Kerman, lead-singer and guitarist, sported a vintage Star Wars shirt underneath a sweat-drentched pleather jacket and nodded to Springsteen as he orchestrated the audience. Most noticeably on their breakthrough hit, "Oh, The Boss Is Coming" as he commanded the middle-class act of punching in and punching out. With Oxford's drumming and Dika's bass-lines maintaining a consistent groove, the band was in full-gauge wrecking mode.
Whenever "Abigail" has that middle-eight breakdown, Kerman is known to lead the audience into a familiar top-forty melody that has rotated between Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepsen. And Kerman prefaced tonight's rendition of "Call Me Maybe" with a heartfelt recommendation that we finally lay this song to rest with the season. DeAngelis' steady, rhythmic plucks buried the chorus of groans as they brought back "Abigail". And very much like their idols, Arkells made you believe that nothing is more important than rock 'n' roll.
To kick-off this fall's CFL season, Arkells penned an official anthem for their hometown heroes: Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Tonight was the first time that they played it in front of a live audience. Even though the track had been released a few days prior, you would never have known with the chanting of the Ivor Wynne stadium praising lyrics, from a Toronto crowd. It felt like they had won over the spirit, until one guy moaned a dull, 'Argoooooos'.
When feedback rose for the closing track from "Michigan Left", Dan Griffin, the band's previous keyboardist who has been on hiatus, was welcomed to the stage. He has been at university as well as pursuing a solo project, but he's undeniably most comfortable shredding expectations with his close friends. That presence only built upon their line-up as the boys ran through the homestretch including their latest single, "On Paper".
There was half-a-second delay between the main-set and their encore, starting with a slower rendition of "Deadlines" off their 2008 debut, Jackson Square. This version worked as a tease, copping a feel with the occasional twitch and made themselves comfortable with one of the most beautiful moments of audience participation that I experienced this season. As Kerman and the boys softened strums, he began to sing a song that we've all known since our primitive years: "This Little Light Of Mine". Cellphones, lighters and hands were raised on request as the stage lights shut off. Arms were thrown over shoulders. Frat boys and families alike swayed to the drunken harmonies. It was a community of music lovers. And to reprise their collaboration at last year's Andy Kim Christmas Show, Lights bolted on stage to the rhythmic bops of Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True".
As the sun set on summer, we bid our farewells in a big, beautiful congregation shouting out the refrain to "John Lennon". To that, the boys from the Hammer tossed their sticks and picks, beaming with a mix of undying affection and exhaustion. The sudden flood lights came on, awaking the post-event awkwardness, where new friends were exposed in frightening clarity.
Arkells made their way on over to the merch tent to greet fans for photos, autographs and to swap school stories to comfort a strong majority of the crowd who had packed their bags for that adolescent venture to college this weekend. For any music fan, it's a rare opportunity to talk about your course selections and Five Star binders with the voice that's getting you through those late night deadlines. But not too long ago, Arkells were those guys, and maybe that's what makes their poppy melodies feel so intimate. Whatever the case, for many in attendance that were first-time concert goers and veteran-fans, it was a picturesque ending to the season and one hell of an beginning of the next.
Where U Goin
Ballad of Hugo Chavez
Abigail (w/ Call Me Maybe snippet)
Ti-Cats Are Hummin'
Deadlines (w/ This Little Light Of Mine snippet)
You Make My Dreams Come True (Ft. Lights)
The Darcys' groomed facial hair is a perfect symbol of how much these guys have grown and honed their craft. Sticky has been front-row to their changes, from deafening control in the Horseshoe to arched eyebrows at this year's EdgeFest. They were smart enough to keep the small-talk minimal and allow their music to speak for them, blending their short set with feedback and clanging of lonely chords that started with the climatic, "The Mountains Make Way". They went on to dedicate their charming version of Steely Dan's "Peg" to their fathers, responding in a nod of approval from nearly every middle-aged man in the crowd. Although their haunting vocal layers were not welcomed by every pop-friendly ear, the overall impression left was commendable. They're really onto something. Their albums are still available on their website for no charge; consider it a gift that keeps on giving.
The Mountains Make Way
Don't Bleed Me
Home At Last
Shaking Down The Old Bones
Edmonton To Purgatory