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Review: Arkells at Massey Hall

16 November 2016 / by David Matta (author)
Arkells (photo: David Matta)
Arkells / (photo: David Matta)

There was an electric excitement in the air at Massey Hall on Saturday night. Everyone who was there knew they were lucky to have tickets after the show sold out so fast. There's always something innately special and exciting when a band comes home to play (well almost home), especially at such a historic and revered venue like Massey Hall. The signs on the doors informing us that the nights show would be filmed only added to the buzz. 

In support of their newest and fourth record, Morning Report, Hamilton indie rock and roll heroes Arkells have been touring extensively all summer, often times sharing the bill with friends Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. But in Toronto it was clear that almost everyone was there for Arkells. Nonetheless, Frank Turner put on an eclectic show of his hits, including 'Recovery' and a cover of Neil Young's 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' with a young fan on harmonica, in tribute to Young's Live at Massey Hall. Turner even hyped the crowd up for the coming band, singing his friends praises before his last few songs. 

In true Massey Hall fashion, right at nine o'clock, the house lights dimmed for a few minutes, in lieu of the usual electronic bell that reminds concert goers to take their seats. Arkells then walked on stage greeted by the thunderous roar of the completely sold out hall. Then began two hours of wondrous rock and roll, singing, and dancing in the dark from the band and audience alike. 

They opened with Morning Report title track and third single 'Drake's Dad'. It was amazing to see the growth of this band since they were supporting their High Noon record a year and half ago.  They brought so much more to the stage in the ways that they tackled certain songs, through the addition of back up vocalists and a horn section (dubbed "Arkettes") and especially in terms of just pure energy and confidence. All the with the beloved and familiar Arkells banner still hanging behind them. 

The group, like Frank Turner before them were living a dream, playing Massey Hall or, the best "rock and roll church" as Max Kerman put it. They brought their best to songs from all four of their records, notably a stripped down version of 'And Then Some' that had all five Arkells gathered around a single mic in the center of the stage, leading the audience who were eagerly singing along (myself included). 'Michigan Left' was decorated with snippets from the classic 'People Get Ready' and 'Pulling Punches' was interrupted with a Bruce Springsteen sing along with Frank Turner, who had to prove his knowledge of the Boss by singing snippets of 'Dancing in the Dark', 'Tenth Avenue Freeze Out' and 'Hungry Heart'. The addition of vocalists and horns on many of the other songs added a lot to the overall sound with parts that you don't hear on the records. 

In the encore, the classic 'Whistleblower' received a make over, as Max Kerman walked out and started the song alone on acoustic guitar, then joined by Anthony Carone on piano, and then by the rest of the band sans Arkettes, who didn't build the song back into it's original shape, but gave it a wild colour, similar to 'Hard Sun' by Indio. It was a rendition fans would likely forget anytime soon. 

To pick a highlight of the night would be an impossible task after all the stories and stage antics, but the nights finale and absolute fan favourite 'Leather Jacket' was definitely the sweet icing on the cake. With the band playing as hard as they could for one reason, with the audience singing the song back for 2,752 different reasons.  

If you missed the show, they'll be back in Hamilton playing a massive celebratory homecoming show at the First Ontario Center on February 10 of next year. 

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The author

David Matta

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