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Arkells exactly where they're meant to be

Hamilton-bred alt-rock band's success can be measured by stage size

The Arkells performed as headliners for the first time in their careers at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Monday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Arkells performed as headliners for the first time in their careers at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Monday.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/2/2019 (193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The rise of the Arkells can be physically traced through the venues they have played in Winnipeg.

During the past decade or so, the Hamilton-bred five-piece alt-rock band has moved from the Royal Albert Arms to the Pyramid Cabaret to the Garrick Centre to the Centennial Concert Hall, and Monday night, for the first time in their career, they headlined Bell MTS Place.

It was clear right away, the Arkells took the ball and ran with it when it came to the bigger digs; a massive, vintage-looking Arkells Touring Band sign lit up the room before they hit the stage, while strips of lighting surrounding the sign changed colours to suit the mood of each song.

They also brought along a three-piece horn section for this tour, which, though small, made a huge impact on songs such as the bombastic Eyes on the Prize, which featured a wonderful keys and trumpet duet at the end.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/2/2019 (193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The rise of the Arkells can be physically traced through the venues they have played in Winnipeg.

During the past decade or so, the Hamilton-bred five-piece alt-rock band has moved from the Royal Albert Arms to the Pyramid Cabaret to the Garrick Centre to the Centennial Concert Hall, and Monday night, for the first time in their career, they headlined Bell MTS Place.

Arkells frontman Max Kerman had the crowd in his pocket from the moment he stepped on that stage.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Arkells frontman Max Kerman had the crowd in his pocket from the moment he stepped on that stage.

It was clear right away, the Arkells took the ball and ran with it when it came to the bigger digs; a massive, vintage-looking Arkells Touring Band sign lit up the room before they hit the stage, while strips of lighting surrounding the sign changed colours to suit the mood of each song.

They also brought along a three-piece horn section for this tour, which, though small, made a huge impact on songs such as the bombastic Eyes on the Prize, which featured a wonderful keys and trumpet duet at the end.

They kicked things off with Relentless, a track from their new album, Rally Cry, and Leather Jacket, one of their biggest hits, from the 2014 album High Noon.

Energy was high from both the band and the fans, and by the second song, most in the audience were on their feet and in full sing-along mode.

Frontman Max Kerman had the crowd in his pocket from the moment he stepped on that stage, but he continued to work as though he didn’t.

His feet never stopped moving; hopping behind the mic, running up and down the catwalk that stretched out into the audience and jumping down onto boxes and speakers lining the front of the stage.

The Arkells perform at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Monday. - JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSMovin' on up: The Arkells hit the big time
The Arkells perform at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Monday. - JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
The Arkells perform at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Monday. - JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
The Arkells perform at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Monday. - JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
The Arkells perform at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Monday. - JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
The Arkells perform at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Monday. - JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
The Arkells perform at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Monday. - JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
The Arkells perform at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Monday. - JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
The Arkells perform at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Monday. - JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
The Arkells perform at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Monday. - JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The way he interacts with the crowd is almost sermon-like, often preferring to interject his dialogue right into songs rather than banter between.

This tactic gave his words an odd kind of authority, regardless of whether he was laying down the rules for the night (such as the endearing rule No. 3: "look after each other") or asking the audience to party like it was a Saturday night.

And then there was the time he waded through the audience and up into the stands to hand out "get out of work" notices to those who had to head to the office this morning, which ended in a heart-warming moment as the entire room sang Happy Birthday to a four-year-old fan who told Kerman it was her first-ever concert.

The Arkells have five albums worth of content to choose from, and they developed a set list that pulled from all corners of their catalogue.

Arkells fans called into the band’s request phone line prior to the show and left a message that was played aloud from a pay phone prop during the show.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Arkells fans called into the band’s request phone line prior to the show and left a message that was played aloud from a pay phone prop during the show.

Most of the album Rally Cry made it into the set, including American Screams, People’s Champ and Saturday Night, but oldies such as No Champagne Socialist and Oh, the Boss Is Coming! — which were morphed into a mashup of sorts — both from their 2008 debut, Jackson Square, and longtime fan favourites, also made an appearance.

Mid-set, all five members of the band made their way to the end of the catwalk for a more intimate, acoustic-style set which included Kiss Cam and part of Only for a Moment; the switch up was a nice reminder that beyond the theatrics and frenetic dance moves and raging guitars, at their core, the Arkells are just great musicians and songwriters.

Around the halfway point, the Arkells blasted through another deep cut, John Lennon, as requested by some local fans who called into the band's dedicated deep-cut request phone line prior to the show and left a message that was adorably played aloud from a payphone prop.

The back half of the set continued at a rapid pace, with some heavy hitters waiting at the end, including WhistleblowerKnocking at the Door, Private School and Hand Me Downs, their most recent single.

After a quick dip off stage, the band returned for a two-song encore to round out their two-hour performance, which included the lovely My Heart’s Always Yours and a freakishly good cover of ABBA’s Dancing Queen, which turned Bell MTS Place into the world’s largest karaoke bar. 

The Arkells are one of the biggest acts in Canadian music right now, and watching them absolutely shine on an arena stage only made clearer why that is. They’ve retained their authenticity, warmth and genuine love of music and performance and have translated it flawlessly to a much larger setting where those qualities can easily get swallowed up.

The Arkells have worked hard to get where they are, and while it’s obvious they don’t take it for granted, it’s also obvious it’s where they are meant to be.

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 at 1:08 AM CST: Final version.

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