Arkells pack Ale
The Journal sits down with the Arkells ahead of their sold-out show on Friday night
The Arkells frontman hadn’t forgotten.
“We played this song in Kingston and our PA went out. You guys carried us through it,” lead singer Max Kerman told the sold-out crowd at Ale House on Friday night, referencing a Zappas Lounge appearance last year.
The Hamilton band uses their Kingston concerts to map progress. It started with a humble 2008 Clark Hall show, on a tour to promote their debut album Jackson Square. In 2010, they opened for Metric at the K-Rock Centre. This year they headlined Queen’s Frosh Week concert and recorded their new album at the Tragically Hip’s Bathhouse Studios.
But the most notable is still that Zappas show, when the microphones went dead during “The Ballad of Hugo Chavez” and the crowd kept singing.
“At every stage of the way you can feel a growth, especially in Kingston,” guitarist Mike DeAngelis said in Ale House’s basement ahead of Friday’s show.
The Kingston date was the first stop to sell out after the tour schedule was announced in November.
Arkells management avoids booking interviews after their concerts — the post-show schedule is reserved for the band to interact with fans. After Friday’s show, the band hovered around their merchandise table, talking with fans and posing for pictures.
“After every show we go out to the merch table and meet as many people as we can,” DeAngelis said. “It has become, not a tradition, but a habit.”
T-shirts for sale at the Arkells’ table listed the band’s union affiliation, Local 467 of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada.
“We actually just got our new union cards,” DeAngelis said.
The five-piece had day jobs when they recorded their debut album. But their tour schedule has since become too demanding. They started their Eastern Canada tour this month in support of their sophomore release, Michigan Left.
Kerman was particularly animated at Ale House. Arkells are known for their live presence, but the stories within the songs on Michigan Left seemed to arouse an advanced set of emotions in the lead singer.
The new album maintains references to working-class life — it’s a theme that DeAngelis said won’t fade, regardless of the band’s mounting success.
“The working-class themes, I think have a lot do with being in Hamilton. I think that city has a tendency to wear off on you,” he said. “In terms of lyrical limitations, it’s best to just not worry about it and let it take care of itself.
“I think that there’s different ways to talk about class issues. A guy like Bruce Springsteen will still talk about class issues and after the show he’s not going to pump gas, he’s a wealthy man.
“The really beautiful thing about his lyrics is that he always focuses on the stories.”