Arkells – Dingwalls, Camden – 22.05.18

Kent, Tegan and Sara, Grouplove, Bleachers and now Canada’s Arkells; all bands who can play to thousands back home and yet only play to a couple of hundred in the UK. Great if you are one of the lucky local residences who get to see their fave foreign band play in an intimate location, but baffling as to why they are not a household name in Blighty.

Arkells have been together for over a decade and written four incredible albums filled with insatiable melodies, humour and heartbeat; think Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers meets Motown. Having seen them support Augustines in 2014 it was one of the rare occasions when the support band almost eclipsed the main event, and ever since then when the Arkells hit the UK they are a must see act.

Arkells’ only UK headline date was at Camden’s Dingwalls (a club where you shall lose over a stone in sweat and guaranteed to never have phone reception). Felix Hagan and The Family had the room rocking and suitably warmed up with their hi-glam rock and glitter, leaving a couple of hundred fans urgently trying to squeeze their way to the front to be guaranteed a top spot to witness their favourite band. There were a few more local accents than on their previous tour meaning that this was not just a show for their fellow countryman. and the recent support slot with Frank Turner had paid off.

Opening with recent single and Canada’s favourite sports theme Knocking On The Door, the horn section and backing singers may have been left at home but who needs backing singers when your audience can do it for free? Frontman Max Kerman didn’t take much time before turning into a choir leader and orchestrating us to sing as loud as we could, whether we knew the actual words or, like me, improvised along. Arkells aren’t a band who pace themselves through a 90 minute live set, Kerman comes bounding out from the first chords and doesn’t fret – it is a wonder how he keeps his jacket on for the entire show.

During Private School they ask for a volunteer to come and play guitar, sadly I was over-looked but Eddie did a sterling job and can dine out on their story for the rest of his life. A Little Rain has a chorus that is impossible to ignore and perfect for spontaneous dance moves – that over three people started to copy, hopefully by the next time they are in town it may even spread to 10. The sound-system sadly struggled to cope with the rock ‘n’ roll and a lot of the guitar and bass was distorting through the speakers, and it wasn’t until the vocals that I could recognise tracks like Michigan Left and Pullin’ Punches. That aside, the band seemed to be enjoying themselves throughout, even bassist Nick Dika occasionally strayed from the shadows to treat us with a grin.

Arkells are a band who just enjoy what they do, and while some bands may have found playing to a small crowd a dent in their ego, but this band treat it as if it’s their biggest show to date. The quintet are constantly trying to make each show feel special, like when they ‘improvised’ a section of the set where Anthony Carone (keys) had to play any Elton John song the audience requested. Kernow made sure that everyone at Dingwalls was having the experience of their lives, the singer has the crowd in his pocket throughout and we lapped up every tour story, even the ones about UK roundabouts as if he was preaching the Ten Commandments. He even walked to the back of the venue to make sure everyone was engaging, and it’s these personal touches that will keep them for having a loyal fan base, including And Then Some where we were asked to hold up our phones to the sky – though oddly the lights weren’t turned off so it didn’t really have the appropriate effect, and by the time they ended the set with Leather Jacket there wasn’t anyone who wasn’t exhausted from dancing, singing and lack of oxygen. I needed a bucket of water to re hydrate me for the encore.

Felix Hagan and The Family returned to the stage with Arkells to perform Whitney Houstons’ I Wanna Dance With Somebody, which was obviously under rehearsed, but the mistakes and chaos just added to the occasion and by the time the audience was arm-in-arm swaying to My Heart Always Yours the crowd had already decided that this was a night to remember. As I left the sweat box to finally breathe fresh air I heard excited fans still singing along and declaring the show as the “greatest gig of their life”. They are a band that instantly captivate their audience whether they are a long time fan or brand new to their world – one would need to consult a Dr. if they made it through a concert without at least bobbing their head.

Arkells are playing the UK in the Autumn, I suggest you book a ticket.

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