Last October I treated myself to a trip to Georgia to see a friend in Atlanta and catch a Frank Turner show over in Athens. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Frank, it’s this – he hands-down has the best opening bands in the world. This is NOT an exaggeration. And Arkells in Athens was no exception. By the time frontman Max Kerman hurled himself into the audience during A Little Rain, I was intrigued, by the time they finished Leather Jacket, I was hooked. So over the next year I saw them again when they opened from Frank in Cincinnati and had the chance to meet them back in July at Cincinnati’s Bunbury Festival. When I saw they were returning to the area I was on that ticket like white on rice.
Arkells are a product of Hamilton, Ontario – all five of their original members attended McMaster University. They inked their first record deal in 2006 and are currently signed with Universal Records. They have five studio albums under their belts: Jackson Square (2008), Michigan Left (2011), High Noon (2014), Morning Report (2016), and Knocking at the Door (2017). They have been nominated for and received numerous awards for their work, including the Juno Award for New Group of the Year in 2010, the Juno for Group of the Year in 2012, and Junos for Group of the Year and Rock Album of the Year in 2015 and 2017. Their first single on their latest album – Knocking at the Door – spent fourteen weeks on the number one chart on the Canadian Alt Charts and earned them their first number one Active Rock Single. Their body of work covers many styles of music – rockers, blues, and country-tinged. Kerman’s degree in Political science bleeds over into their music, with Knocking at the Door being inspired by The Women’s March on Washington, and Whistleblower, which looks at the responsibility to stand up when things are going pear-shaped. The current members are Kerman (lead vocals and guitar), Mike DeAngelis (vocals and guitar), Nick Dika (bass), Tim Oxford (drums/percussion), and Anthony Carone (vocals/keyboard/guitar).
It was a cold night in Covington last Thursday and yes, I will admit to wearing a leather jacket to the show. After seeing them on large stages during their headline sets and Bunbury, I was a bit anxious to see how they would fare at Madison Live, which has a very small capacity and a very, very small stage. There was nothing to worry about. They somehow managed to shoe-horn themselves into a tiny space and played just as hard as they would in a large venue. I sometimes worry that bands who visit here from other countries aren’t as invested in their performance as they would be if they were back home in front of people who really know them, but this is not the issue with Arkells. Kerman worked the stage from side to side, the rapport the band members have is amazing, and the show wasn’t hindered by the size of the stage. Many of the people were return customers from seeing them open for Frank and at Bunbury, but there were some people seeing them for the first time and they walked away converted. They opened with a beautiful a cappella version of Amazing Grace, threw in a tribute to Tom Petty with Running Down a Dream with openers Irontom, and gave a good mix of new and old songs. One of the neatest thing they do is invite someone up from the crowd who knows three specific chords to play quitar along with them on one of their songs. I don’t know where they found the young man they called up Thursday night, but he’s gonna be going places. The crowd responded to their energy by singing along. Kerman spent a lot of time out in the audience, and that is where he truly shines. Maybe you didn’t know who they were when you got there, but it’s hard to not respond positively to their music, their attitudes, and their fun. Kerman mentioned that they were in Cincinnati several years ago and did a show for 8-9 people. The thousands of people who saw them with Frank and at Bunbury are happy that they came back and I hope they keep their promise to return The Greater-Cincinnati area really likes Arkells.
This was one of the early shows on this tour and you have a bunch of chances to catch them in the US. So put on your leather jacket, polish up your southern accent, and go see them. Seriously. Go. They won’t be playing venues this size in the US for long, and you’ll really miss an outstanding opportunity to see them before they step up to the next level in the US.
Tour Dates ; http://www.arkellsmusic.com/live/
Knocking at the Door – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQvp6EghJ18
Leather Jacket – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_XGxs3yBm8
Private School – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7V30rKiikA
Full Set of Covington photos – https://www.takeapolaroidpicture.com/arkells-covington-ky
All pictures copyright Tara Pitts