After scoring Metropolis, one of the most renowned musical venues in Montreal, Arkells definitely put on a show. Their Saturday Feb. 18 set was perplexing: A stark contrast between raw Canadian-born talent adored for their lyrics and zest, and choreographed dance moves that were the epitome of cringe-worthy. Witnessing this duality in the performance was like riding an emotional rollercoaster through the hour and a half set list.
Originally from Hamilton Ontario, the five members of Arkells caught their big break in 2011 with the release of their most acclaimed album, Michigan Left. They’ve made their way to the top of Canadian alternative rock music, winning four Junos and a gold record. Their music is known for pop hooks with rock n’ roll roots—making their songs almost immediate classics.
On Saturday night, Arkells certainly performed—in every sense of the word. Starting with “A Little Rain (A Song for Pete),” Max Kerman’s impeccable vocals set the bar high for the crowd. Then came the choreographed dance moves—the five band members moved up and down the stage in horrific unison, giving me flashbacks to my sixth grade talent show. It appeared as though the band was afraid that their music wouldn’t be enough, and were making an obvious effort to keep the crowd entertained.
Soon after, they switched their attention back to the music. Their well-known song, “Passenger’s Seat,” sent vibrations that reset their momentum and had the audience swaying left to right, completely lost in the song. Smashing “11:11” out of the park, the great acoustics provided by the venue allowed the music to resonate throughout the crowd. However, they fell back on clearly rehearsed jokes, a proposal on stage, and even a small karaoke stint by the opener Frank Turner. Arkells undoubtedly have chemistry, yet their delivery felt somewhat forced.
As the end of the concert neared, my faith in the concert was restored. The entire crowd was grinning and dancing, reciting the well-known words to tunes like “Whistleblower” and “Leather Jacket.” Everyone was feeding off each other’s energy and excitement, reflecting the liveliness of the band.
Leaving the concert left me confused as to where the band is headed. Perhaps they are looking to become the kind of big act that sells out the Bell Centre, putting on shows with back-up dancers and confetti falling from the ceiling. Or, maybe, they are they still in an awkward, intermediate stage between being “big” enough to play at the Metropolis in Montreal and fearing that the large crowd will not enjoy themselves.
Arkells needs to realize that their musical talent is strong enough to entertain crowds. They have such a active Canadian community of music lovers supporting them; Metropolis was filled with people there to listen and connect with the music, not to see high leg kicks and tacky dance moves. Here’s to hoping that Arkells drop the act and focus on their music.