Watching a band grow from playing the Biltmore to Venue to the Commodore to festivals and now arenas is something special. And that's the journey I've followed of one of Canada's hardest working bands, Arkells. They kicked off the Canadian portion of their Morning Report tour last night at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Arena last night, their first ever show headlining an arena.
And the brought along with them a special guest, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. Turner started on stage along with "I Still Believe", The Sleeping Souls slowly joining him to launch into a big singalong, the first of the night with the rapidly filling floor section joining in. And if you follow either/both bands on social media, you have seen their friendship, so it's no surprise that during the very first song Max from Arkells came out to play a bit of harmonica.
The rest of the set was filled with high energy Brit-Rock with Turner's almost-manic stage presence, with songs like the defiant "Photosynthesis" and the incredibly catchy "Recovery".
Part way through the set, Turner brought a girl onstage to play a harmonica solo, the twist being it was a random fan from the front row who had pretty much never played harmonica
(I offhandedly joked he "Bruce Springsteen'd a Courtney Cox" which would turn out to be eerily prescient later on).
As the set came to a close, Turner went into the crowd with "Four Simple Words" starting off as a slow waltz as Frank went into the thick of the crowd to dance with random people, before hitting the throttle as the song turned punk for a fiery ending.
After thanking us again Frank & the band left the stage to while Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" played, and I hope that's the case because I liked what I saw.
As the floor and the stands continued to fill, it was soon time for the Hamilton fivesome, Arkells, taking the stage to Edwin Starr's "War" and kicking off with a song perhaps chosen specifically for Vancouver, "A Little Rain (A Song For Pete)".
From the raucous songs like "Oh, The Boss is Coming" to "And Then Some" with the band acoustically huddled together; the dark and brooding "Passenger Seat" to the gospel-tinged "Drake's Dad" -- which saw frontman Max Kerman smack in the middle of the crowd -- the band played for about two hours, pulling from all their albums, never losing steam. Especially Max, who I don't think stopped moving for more than 30 seconds.
They also had a few special guests through the set; first Frank Turner come out and "defend his PhD in Rock 'n' Roll" by putting him on the spot to sing some Springsteen (remember what I said earlier?), and Said the Whale's Tyler Bancroft was out to play guitar for "My Heart's Always Yours". And then in a true "Dancing in the Dark" moment, Max pulled up a girl from the front row to dance with him to "Dirty Blonde" before all the lights went out while the band encouraged everyone to literally dance like no one was watching.
They finished off the main set with Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls back out to join them on "Private School", but of course that wasn't going to be it. The encore began with an acoustic rendition of "Whistleblower", the band rejoining Max one by one, before one last singalong of the night, and the biggest yet, "Leather Jacket".
It's been years since I've been to an arena show -- to be honest, I'm not really a big fan of them -- but if anyone's going to bring me out to an arena, it's Arkells. The sound wasn't nearly as bad as I was fearing, and of course the band was explosive on stage. They've always been one of my favourite bands to watch live, and it was such a joy seeing them rock the big stage. 10
A Little Rain (A Song For Pete)
Came to Light
Never Thought That This Would Happen
And Then Some
Oh, The Boss Is Coming
The Ballad of Hugo Chavez
My Heart's Always Yours