There have been plenty of words written about the state of the live music scene in Halifax, and how some great shows have been criminally under attended in the Maritimes. While the size of the crowd in attendance of the double bill of Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls and the Arkells, would certainly qualify to be part of that narrative, it might in fact be a dead horse at this point. There is a lot to be said for those who finally emerged from their groundhog burrows to make their way to the Scotiabank Centre after an arduous stretch of blizzards and shoveling. These folks knew what they were signing up for, a potent night of raucous folk infused punk rock with Frank Turner, and the infectious exuberance of Hamilton’s own Arkells. Needless to say, once the house lights came up, and the crowd dissipated, you would be hard pressed to find someone who left disappointed. It was another step in that upward trajectory of one of the hardest working bands in the Canadian music scene.
As people arrived at the venue, they made their way to the stage barrier on the floor in the General Admission area. Slowly but surely, the crowd started to fill in the area when the Hampshire, England singer-songwriter Frank Turner returned to the Halifax stage, this time with his comrades The Sleeping Souls in tow. While their set was devastatingly brief, it was one that was captivating and electric. When Turner played a solo-set at the Marquee in early 2016 he was battling a severe cold, and was somewhat subdued (and apologetic), but on Wednesday night both Turner and the Sleeping Souls were ready to rumble, and holy shit did they ever! With a set that included the pre-requisite “Recovery” (a single that appeared poised to make Turner a household name), the raucous “Get Better” and the completely apt “The Next Storm”. It was a set that got the developing crowd moving, and certainly earned Frank Turner a handful of new fans who may not have been familiar with his prolific career, but are sure to dig into the back catalogue when they get back home.
As the stage crew prepped the stage, a crowd finally developed on the floor in anticipation of the headlining set by Hamilton’s the Arkells. Between sets, I made my way through the crowd to get ready to shoot the headlining set, but during my travels I spotted Bill Plaskett and his son (a HAFILAX favorite) Joel Plaskett in the crowd, as was Mike Campbell (owner of the Carleton – a typical HAFILAX haunt), it was great to see them all out supporting the live music scene. While the lower bowl had some breathing room, the growing buzz in the crowd was ready to welcome Nick, Tim, Tony, Mike and Max to the stage. The band has made it a point to include both Halifax and the Maritimes on their tour itinerary, and haven’t shied away from playing here on a semi-regular basis (having returned well within a year of their previous show), and the city has responded in kind, as the band has moved from playing smaller rooms like the McInnes Room at Dalhousie, to Alderney Landing and the Halifax Forum Multipurpose Centre and culminating in headlining the biggest room in town at the Scotiabank Centre. It’s a well-deserved ascension for a band that has cultivated a relationship with its fan-base via social media, and with performances that will leave you sweaty and exhausted, but still hungry for more.
Wednesday night may not be an ideal night for a show, as people still have to get up and head to the office the following morning. However, on this night at the Scotiabank Centre, Arkells front-man (and whirling dervish) Max Kerman did everything in his power to get the crowd to buy into the idea that it was a Friday evening with the weekend ahead of us. For over two-hours, those in attendance were treated to a show that was befitting of an end of a Canadian tour, the set encapsulated the band’s entire catalogue while showcasing their most recent album Morning Report. The set included those Arkells staples such as “Leather Jacket”, “11:11”, “Ballad of Hugo Chavez” and “Drake’s Dad”, and for those who didn’t tune in to hear the band’s appearance at Live 105, they hinted that the next single was either going to be “Savannah” or “And Then Some” and both tunes were played on Wednesday Night, and I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll be hearing a lot of “And Then Some” in the coming months. Personally, it was a treat to hear a handful of tunes off of my favorite Arkells album Michigan Left (“Kiss Cam”, “Book Club”). It was a set that was well received, and unless you were looking for some of the deeper cuts, you got to hear all of the band’s big hits and then some.
As with any Arkells show, you will have the portion of the set dedicated to a tribute to some of the band’s influences, as they played some Motown staples when they were in town back in 2016, and on this evening, they turned their focus to The Boss Bruce Springsteen. For this segment of the show, they got Frank Turner back up on stage to earn his Springsteen PhD and Turner channeled Jersey’s prodigal son’s perfectly on “10th Avenue Freeze-Out”. As the show wound down, Max returned to the stage on his own for the encore, and eased into an acoustic rendition of “Whistleblower” which built into a full force rock n’ roll jam. From there, the band knocked “Cynical Bastards” out of the park and then left the Haligoons in attendance humming “Leather Jacket” to cap off the night. Sure, there could have been a better turnout for this show (and seriously should have been) however, for those of us in attendance were treated to an outstanding night of potent pop infused rock-n-roll. Thanks Arkells, until next time!