Arkells lay down the rules for a show in Ottawa (Pictures and a review)

[Here’s yet another report from Ottawa from correspondents Ross MacDonald and Karen Coughtrey. – AC]

The weekend got started early this week when the Arkells and their rescheduled Blink Once/Twice Tour finally stopped in Ottawa. The Arkells, supported by Joel Plaskett Emergency got the party started Thursday night at TD Place arena. You could feel the excitement and pleasure of the audience throughout the night in the superfan crowd on the floor but also through the vibration of the legendarily bouncy stands of the aging arena. 

The Joel Plaskett Emergency had no trouble getting the crowd warmed up. They opened the evening with a bang with the song ‘Lightning Bolt’, followed by ‘Extraordinary’ the perfect foreshadowing for what the night was to become. 

 Joel Plaskett Emergency

Joel grabbed an acoustic guitar to pay homage to his home province Nova Scotia, “In the spirit of Cape Breton” he said before starting into ‘Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’’. Although he was not playing a fiddle or a banjo the performance somehow had the air of both, as if it was what one would imagine bluegrass if done by Nova Scotians and was toe-tappingly fun and delightful.

 Joel Plaskett Emergency

On this cold damp night, Joel brought the audience back to warm summer nights by asking for a campfire sing-along. Something The Arkells would mimic later. In the hopes that when the song finally comes out it will be an instant hit because everyone will already know and love all the words, Joel had the crowd sing along and sing out progressively louder, ‘Hey Moon (A Campfire Song).’

 Joel Plaskett Emergency

Joel would demonstrate some fancy footwork as he moved about the stage on ‘Alright/Ok’ and ‘Through & Through & Through’, threw in a cover of Nick Gilder’s ‘Hot Child In the City’ as an interlude between songs, and took everyone back to school with ‘Come on Teacher.’ He was determined we’d hear a song from 44 the quadruple album released in april 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic so played ‘Brand New Broken Hearted’ and of course, he had everyone singing along at top volume on ‘Nowhere with You.’

Between bands a large Arkells Touring Band sign appeared suspended from the ceiling and with a tour titled Blink Once/Twice it should come as no surprise that a series of lights in the form of an eye appeared as the backdrop to the stage. 

Arkells show in Ottawa

The Arkells arrived on stage with all the energy one has come to expect of them. They opened with ‘Past Life’ and already had the crowd singing for them on the second song and a clear fan favourite, ‘Leather Jacket.’ They personalized the lyrics to ‘Michigan Left’ for the Ottawa crowd, mentioning nostalgic local small musical venues (Zaphods, Barrymore’s) and locations (the Rideau Canal).

Arkells show in Ottawa

At this point, frontman Max Kerman established some rules for the show:

  1. Doesn’t matter if you’re in the pit or in the very last row, you need to be ready to dance and shake it all night long.
  2. Look after each other, take care of your neighbours, the show only works if everyone is leaving with a smile on their faces.
  3. It’s been 1,387 long days since Arkells last played Ottawa. It’s Thursday but the weekend starts tonight, the party starts now.
  4. Sing from the bottom of your heart.

And no complaints were heard as the crowd was immediately livened up (not that they needed livening) and grooving to ‘People’s Champ’ and would oblige the band by following rule #3 and yelling “punching out” at top volume whenever they said “punching in” during a medley of ‘Deadlines’, ‘Oh The Boss is Coming!’ and ‘John Lennon.’

Arkells show in Ottawa

Max would grab an acoustic guitar and tell a story of young Max learning to play guitar in the early 00’s who would one day have a surprise meeting with the King of Halifax, Joel Plaskett. And so, according to Max, the only thing that makes sense would be that in 2021, Joel Plaskett would play on an Arkells song. Of course at this point, Joel Plaskett joined him on the stage with an electric guitar to play ‘Something’s Gotta Give.’

Arkells show in Ottawa

The Arkells were joined by a brass quartet, the Northern Soul Horns who almost stole the show. Their inclusion not only adds a unique depth and sound but feeds the party atmosphere of an Arkells show. The band seems to recognize this and makes sure their talents are known and recognized as they were front of stage for several numbers and even when dancing further back on the stage you couldn’t help but notice them. 

Arkells show in Ottawa

Dennis Pressley and Yvonne Moir brought the house down with saxophone solos on ‘Nowhere to Go’ and ‘Relentless’ respectively and Tom Moffett performed a beautifully moving trumpet solo on ‘Teenage Tears,’ which also saw Anthony Carone leave his keyboards for a piano. 

Arkells show in Ottawa

The Arkells are a band who clearly want to connect with the fans and just the second song into their set Max reached down to grab a sign from a young fan that read “Who the fuck uses a payphone?”. Later he would oblige a fan who asked via sign for him to draw their next tattoo and he even invited a newlywed couple up onto the stage to dance to ‘Quitting You’, although they declined the offer. Later he would get close and personal with the fans after urging the crowd to let loose and dance with abandon to ‘Dance With You’ he and the Northern Soul Horns would leave the stage and move through the crowd on the floor and up into the stands parading in a large loop only making it back to the stage part way through ‘Years In The Making,’ the next song, the crowd didn’t need him regardless as they sang loudly along.

Arkells show in Ottawa

Near the end of the night, in the middle of ‘Knocking At The Door’, Max told a story that greatly pleased the audience of when they played Ottawa Bluesfest and an audacious 19 year old e-mailed them saying that he made drums and might he bring some to the festival for Tim to play? The young man did show up at the festival with the drums and history was made; since that day Tim only plays drums from the YC drum company of which Jordan Gauthier (the then 19 year old) is proprietor. The crowd roared when it was revealed that Jordan hails from the Ottawa suburb of Nepean. The song featured another excellent trumpet solo by Tom Moffett and at one point the band appeared to be frozen as the audience was tortured by a long pause before they once again came alive and sang the chorus, which would turn out to be the end of the main set. 

Arkells show in Ottawa

Max got emotional about the delayed tour during ‘And Then Some’ and asked for the lights to be raised so he could see the crowd sing along, which he recorded on his phone and then named the audience the “Non Denominational Gospel Choir of Ottawa” and a little while later the band had the crowd holding on to each other and swaying “In the spirit of love and community” to ‘My Heart’s Always Yours.’

Tim Oxford the drummer and Anthony Carone the keyboardist had their time to shine when after the band’s short cover of Chris Kenner’s ‘Land of 1000 Dances’ they participated in a piano vs drums battle. They demonstrated their talents back and forth and then together before rejoining the band on ‘Liberation’ which morphed straight into ‘Whistleblower.’

Arkells show in Ottawa

The party couldn’t last forever and the night ended with a three song encore. It was Nick Dika’s turn to shine as his bass playing talent was showcased on ‘Reckoning’ before they moved on to a fantastic cover of ABBA’s ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’ that to great cheers featured another amazing saxophone solo from Dennis. ‘You Can Get It’ gave the crowd one last chance to sing and dance with the band before reluctantly needing to bundle up and head out into the damp dark chilly night. 

Arkells show in Ottawa

The Arkells
Max Kerman – lead vocals, guitar
Mike DeAngelis – lead guitar, vocals
Nick Dika – bass, keyboard
Tim Oxford – drums, percussion
Anthony Carone – keyboards, mandolin, vocals

Northern Soul Horns
Dennis Passley – saxophone
Tom Moffett – trumpet
Ernesto Barahona – trombone
Yvonne Moir – saxophone

Joel Plaskett Emergency
Joel Plaskett – vocals, guitar
Dave Marsh – drums
Chris Penell – bass

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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