Max Kerman, lead singer and guitarist of Canadian rock band Arkells
, never stops moving. It's part of what gives his band gravity, and they have an irresistible pull. With riffs that fly out of Mike DeAngelis's fingers, Anthony Carone's unrelenting hammering on the keys, Nick Dika plucking at the bass, and Tim Oxford's steady beats that explode into drum-filled choruses, not a person in the room - whatever room they're in - isn't captivated by Arkells.
Arkells started making music back in 2006 at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Jackson Square, Michigan Left,
and High Noon
were each great albums, but their fourth record Morning Report
explores new territory. Morning Report
blends the story arc of a breakup and makeup ("Heart's Always Yours," "Come Back Home," "And Then Some") with playful songs that commemorate stories from the band's morning reports to friends ("Drake's Dad") with a touch of social commentary ("Private School"). One of the best songs on the album is their most recent single "Heart's Always Yours." At first listen, it sounds like another well-composed love song by a rock band, but closer listening reveals gentle hints at heartbreak and unrequited love. The first verse starts out with just the right amount of sweetness, a vignette of romance as a girl sings in the shower and Kerman falls in love, but the soaring chorus saves the song from cliche when Kerman belts out a high C, covering over an octave in range in just one melodic line. He hits the high note every time (okay, almost every time, but that's just part of the charm), blending a triumphant melody with bittersweet lyrics that long for love to be returned.
At Underground Arts last week, Arkells sold out the venue while maintaining the intimacy of a house show in someone's best friend's basement. Wasting no time, Arkells launch into "A Little Rain" after a quick intro from Max (Kerman).
"I was told not to tell the whole communist story I always tell, so this is me not telling it." He jumps from side to side onstage, his mop of curls bouncing against his forehead. His voice is robust but gritty, gaining texture when he reaches the edges of his range. "How are the curls holding up?" he asks halfway through the set. A few scattered cheers and a collective laugh follow, and Max shrugs and smiles before launching into the next song. The set that follows is mostly High Noon
and Morning Report,
"11:11" and "Pullin' Punches" being audience favorites. Their encore is vehemently demanded by a sweaty crowd still fired up from a rousing performance of "Cynical Bastards." They cover Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams," spontaneously inviting saxophonist Will who had played with the opening band to join them on stage. This is what Arkells excel at - making new fans through spontaneity. They leave a trail of new friends, new fans, and casual-fans-turned-Arkells-die-hards everywhere they go. In the past, Arkells have serenaded fans with song requests, introduced longtime fans to the audience at big shows, and even called up a fan who asked to play guitar at a performance at Baeble over the summer.
Before the show, Nick warns me that he'll be exhausted after their set. "I'll be lying right there for a while," he says, gesturing at the long couch backstage. Moments after they finish "Leather Jacket," Nick and Anthony are slumped on the couch, shirts unbuttoned, the sheen of sweat and a satisfied expression on their faces.
The venue starts to empty out, and Max nurses a beer while chatting with fans - one who came from Canada just for the show because Max invited him on Snapchat, another from New York who writes her own music and is thrilled to learn that the band popped in her CD on their latest drive down from Canada. He makes each one feel like he's their biggest fan, and the next time Arkells are in Philly, they'll fill a venue bigger than this one. Then, Max is gone, on the move again, headed back to Canada for a few days before coming back to open for Frank Turner on a US tour. Will he be resting up in Hamilton? I ask. Of course not - a Reddit AMA and five radio interviews, little things here and there... there's always something. It's like he's on stage all over again, bouncing back and forth, wading through an audience that embraces him as he holds the microphone up to each of them, pointing at fans he recognizes and throwing his hands up in the air. He never stops moving.
Also check out our Bands + Brews session with the band: