Arkells @ Commodore -- 02/20/15

Hamilton, Ontario's Arkells kicked off their High Noon tour in Vancouver this weekend, at the legendary Commodore Ballroom. The sold out show was a long way from their 2008 Vancouver debut, at the Penthouse (a strip club that, for some reason, used to host live music as well).

I've seen the band a good number of times, I would probably put them in the long list of my favourite Canadian bands, especially ones to see live, so I was naturally excited to catch them once more.

Vancouver's own Dear Rouge opened up the show, and it had been a while since I had seen a proper show from them, so I was interested to see what they were up to. The main duo of the band is married couple Drew and Danielle McTaggart, at the front of the stage, but Danielle as lead singer was definitely who all eyes were on. She stalked the stage charisma and a strong voice, as well as playing a little bit of guitar or synth for some songs.

They teased their upcoming album, ranging from the poppy songs like "I Heard I Had" to the darker and moodier "Black To Gold", and a good number of the sold out crowd was clearly there to see them, too, as they had the crowd clapping along during a few songs, including a breakdown in the final song (which I thought killed a little of the momentum at the end).

Ever since they won the Peak Performance Project back in '012, I feel like Dear Rouge is always just slightly playing catch-up to their own success. Which isn't a knock on the band, they've just had a great amount of it in a very short time, and are still a relatively new band. But with catchy dark pop and Danielle's charisma, I don't doubt they'll grow into it before long, and be headlining the Commodore themselves soon enough.

It wasn't too long before Arkells hit the stage, right on time at 10:30. Starting off with "Brought To Light" from High Noon, it was immediately apparent that all members of the band had loads of confidence and energy on stage. Especially frontman Max Kerman, who is one of my favourite lead singers to watch; he's got an unparalleled charm and enthusiasm, that is infectious. It's hard not to be drawn in, and from nearly the start he had the packed ballroom singing and clapping along, exemplified by a huge chorus of voices in unison singing along with "John Lennon" -- still one of my favourite Arkells songs which came early on -- and the "punching in/punching out" call & response from "Oh, The Boss Is Coming".

The set spanned all three of their albums thus far, from the softer and slower "I'm Not The Sun", a rarely played song from Jackson Square, to the title track of Michigan Left with a little Motown mixed in, to the slowburning "Never Thought That This Would Happen". 
Other highlights included "Pulling Punches" with Tony Carone's excellent keyboard solo, the anti-negativity of "Cynical Bastards", and one of my favourites from the new album, timed almost perfectly so when the clock struck 11:11, they were in the middle of the song "11:11" (and, come to think of it, the show may have ended just around 12:34). 

They drew the main set to a close with "Fake Money", and blasts of confetti to wrap it up (though, a missed opportunity in that it was just regular confetti, and not like, Monopoly money or anything).
And of course, it wouldn't be an Arkells set without some covers and/or Motown. They laid down a little Peter Gabriel in the main set, with a pretty great cover of "Sledgehammer", and in the encore Max invited Drew and Danielle from Dear Rouge back out for a rendition of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", a fun duet.

The encore also included an acoustic version of "Book Club", with Max, Tony, and Mike DeAngelis all sharing one microphone -- with Max telling a bit of the backstory behind the song and Tony & Mike imitating some of the songstresses from Women In Song -- and they ended off with their current single, and arguably biggest to date, one more time getting the sold out crowd to sing along to "Leather Jacket", both the band and the crowd still high energy after the two-hour set.

Max said at one point that they always seemed tired when coming into Vancouver, as they usually travel the country in the other direction, so it was nice to start things off in the city, fresh-faced and raring to go. And that's exactly what they did. It was a great strong show from the pride of The Hammer, and I don't think I'll ever tire of seeing them live.

Come To Light; Michigan Left; John Lennon; What Are You Holding On To; Hey Kids!; Oh, The Boss is Coming; Never Thought That This Would Happen; 11:11; I'm Not The Sun; Dirty Blonde; Systematic; Kiss Cam; On Paper; Pulling Punches; Sledgehammer [Peter Gabriel cover]; Cynical Bastards; Whistleblower; Fake Money.
(encore) Book Club; The Ballad of Hugo Chavez; Ain't No Mountain High Enough [Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell cover], Leather Jacket.