Published Feb 17, 2019Arkells' tour stop in Toronto was a religious experience, with frontman Max Kerman declaring: "Tonight, Scotiabank Arena is the church of rock'n'roll, and everyone here is the nondenominational gospel choir."
The exhilarating evening started off with an assist from L.A.-based openers Lord Huron, who brought the outdoors inside with their wilderness-tinged brand of indie folk. Employing the sounds of crickets to create the atmosphere of the lake area the band were named after, they quickly went through songs "Never Ever," "Dead Man's Hand" and "Back From the Edge." The multi-instrumentalist group brought out a washboard and maracas for romantic anthem "Ends of the Earth," and the audience was entranced as Miguel Briseño played the Theremin for outlaw-themed track "Way Out There." An emotional rendition of "The Night We Met," followed by upbeat Elvis-reminiscent dance track "Fool for Love," closed out their 40-minute set.
A quick break and an impromptu floor show from avocado-shirt wearing guys doing the worm later, church was in session and Kerman was the minister. From the opening verse of Gord Downie-inspired "Relentless," the audience was singing along to every word, and Kerman was dancing like his clothes were on fire. They surprisingly played major hits like "Leather Jacket," "Michigan Left" and "Never Thought That This Would Happen" right off the bat, before diving into deep cuts "No Champagne Socialist" and "Oh, the Boss is Coming!" from Jackson Square. Kerman humorously went into the audience to give out doctors' notes to those who had to work the following day, because he wanted everyone to "sing like it's Saturday night!"
The band was supported the whole night by Toronto natives the Northern Soul Horns, who elevated song after song with raucous instrumentation. Their shining moment came during gospel-heavy track "Eyes on the Prize," when the audience was treated to an epic keys and trumpet solo finale from centre stage. Wearing his now-signature leather jacket with rainbow tassels from the Rally Cry album cover, Kerman played to the Toronto audience with frequent shout outs to local venues — "Let's make it feel like Sneaky Dee's on a Wednesday night" and "When is Massey Hall coming back to me?" — and even got Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas to call in and request a song. The group flew through politically charged "American Screams" and "People's Champ" with sizzling bass from Nick Dika and Anthony Carone's uninhibited keys, at one point playing with both hands and a foot.
After a stripped-down version of "Kiss Cam," complete with a sky full of cellphone stars, Kerman brought members of the audience wearing the same rainbow tassels on stage for a karaoke rendition of "Only For a Moment." With a nod to what's trending in popular music, Arkells broke into the opening bars of Lady Gaga hit "Shallow" from A Star Is Born before seamlessly transitioning into banger "11:11."
For an encore to an already stacked two-hour show of new hits and old favourites, Arkells pulled out the big guns for a crowd-pleasing cover of ABBA's "Dancing Queen" before ending the evening on a softer note with "My Heart's Always Yours" sung like a prayer of thanks to the audience for showing up with their best "3 a.m. swagger." Amen.