Now I have to admit, while I like the Arkells, I never jumped on the buzz-worthy bandwagon that a lot of my peers seem to have. Arkells are solid. They bring energy to every show. They even get political sometimes, and their “Ode to the Whistleblower” is a pretty powerful tune. And much like Glorious Sons (who are coming to the K-Rock Centre in February 2018), the commercial radio/university campus buzz/Canadian indie support for them is not only noticeable but frankly hard to miss.
That said, even after catching them a handful of times at festivals and as openers, I can’t say I truly could wrap my mind around why they were the next big thing. I enjoyed watching their ode to Tennessee and that time they “met Drake’s dad” when they performed at the Juno Awards. I see that they have always had potential. But…rock stars….really?!
And then there was Friday night at the Roger’s K-Rock Centre.
The place was near capacity and the beer lineup was nearly forty minutes in length. Some of the prettiest girls in the entire region were accompanying gentlemen (many of which were sporting a similar hair cut), and the room was buzzing.
Matt Mays was opening the show up. Wait…what? Matt fricking Mays was opening for the Arkells? But he’s a veteran performer. How did this happen? What did I miss?
I’ve seen Matt Mays probably eight or nine times. I still think the opening guitar parts for “Tall Trees” and “What Are We Going To Do Come The Month Of September?” are some of the best in Canadian rock, and I can’t figure out how he isn’t my generation’s Neil Young yet. That said, with all of his talent and all of his gratitude, he couldn’t compete with the frenetic energy in the room.
Performing classics like “On The Hood” and “Coccaine Cowgirl,” Matt struggled through what sounded like a lost voice. And while every word was a growl or a whisper, his performance was still as loud and honest as ever. He might quite possibly be the loudest opening act in history, and he has almost gotten to the point of being nostalgic, so for those that were familiar with him and his band, it was still a very enjoyable 35 minutes.
Everything changed when the Arkells hit the stage though. From new hits like “11:11” to more hallmark songs from there catalogue like “And Then Some,” the Kingston audience knew every word and screamed them in unison. Every song had a hook. Every song sounded like a single. Every song pulled influences from urban pop music, indie rock, and classic rock of yesteryear. With songs that are reminiscent of Hedley, the Kings of Leon, and even drake himself, the Arkells have mastered the art of genre-hopping in a subtle and articulate way that stands head and shoulders above acts like Florida Georgia Line who make it sound too contrived.
If I was being cynical, I would argue that they talk too much. Every song included a monologue. And every anthem included the band instructing the audience to clap and scream. While that seems fun at first, it does start to wane for some of us as the show goes on.
Either way you look at it, there was little arguing the talent, drive or energy. This is a band that has developed, and still has a long road ahead of them. They have the it factor, and on Friday night a packed arena let me know they were already rock stars. For more details on the Arkells and when to catch them next visit www.arkellsmusic.com