ARKELLS with SAM CASH AND THE ROMANTIC DOGS at Adelaide Hall, Thursday, January 30. Rating: NNNN
Outside Adelaide Hall, the crowd waiting to see Hamilton pop-rockers Arkells were waving their full-page printouts as if they were Willy Wonka golden tickets. Seeing them in this intimate a venue, after all, is pretty unusual.
Inside, locals Sam Cash & The Romantic Dogs valiantly tried to warm the crowd with a concise, rootsy set. Unfortunately, a smattering of bros was more interested in downing tall cans to get in the mood.
Not that they needed to get drunk to have fun.
From the outset, Arkells were clear about their M.O.: premiering songs from an as-yet-untitled upcoming album. New tracks such as Coming Cars were more daring, punchy and soulful than 2011's Hall & Oates-influenced Michigan Left. Calling their new batch more "hopeful" love songs, Arkells might be welcoming their age and attempting to shed the college-rock tag. Their ceaseless energy, trendy outfits and songs of angst-ridden relationships might seem akin to a college band, sure. But lead singer Max Kerman showed off a more thoughtful side, taking time to speak fondly and honestly about longstanding booking agent Jack Ross, the passing of Pete Seeger and the true power of rock 'n' roll before playing Cynical Bastards, a weighty new track.
The five-piece still repped Guelph, Kingston and their native Hamilton in songs, and groups of fans were spotted pantomiming every lyric. Kerman took more and more cues from 2013 tour mate Gord Downie's theatrical approach to performing: he directed traffic with a personable flair, imploring keyboardist Anthony Carone to go against his New Year's resolution and bang away on a highlight-of-the-night piano solo that had the entire band swaying back and forth in perfect unison. Carone later grabbed the harmonica to give a countrified touch to the classic Champagne Socialist. (Carone, the newest addition to the band, nearly stole the show from a very energetic Kerman.)
They've mastered the call and response, though they verged on overdoing it on their hit Oh, The Boss Is Coming! But ultimately, Arkells appeal exists in equal parts soul-influenced enthusiasm and aw-shucks charm, exemplified by their finale: a crashing take on their single Whistleblower.