On October 26th, 2019, Halifax finally ended its two and a half year Arkells drought. The band made its triumphant return to the Scotiabank Centre, a room they last played alongside their pals Frank Turner and the Sleepless Souls. At that time, you could see that the band was starting to ascend to the top of the Canadian Rock n Roll mountain. They were starting to outgrow the mid-size venues, and needed a bigger space for Max and the boys to command. On this trip to the East Coast, Arkells brought along the much beloved Mother Mother, and recent Polaris Prize winner Haviah Mighty. It was a night that certainly befit the spirit of the Halifax Pop Explosion (HPX).
Having headlined the Marquee Ballroom stage during 2018’s HPX alongside her band mates in The Sorority, with one of the best performances during last year’s fest, we fast forward roughly 365 days. During that span, Haviah dropped her latest LP 13th Floor and earned the prestigious Polaris Prize for her work. 2018 may have been the year of The Sorority, but 2019 is the year of Haviah Mighty.
When the house lights dropped, the whoops and cheers went up as the lyrical dynamo burst onto the stage and ripped into her set of cuts from her award-winning album. It was apparent that Haviah belonged on the Scotiabank Centre stage, as she worked her way up and down the catwalk with ease, looking very much like a superhero with her trench-coat flowing out behind her much like a hero’s cape. Mighty’s set whipped by in the blink of an eye, but tracks such as “Ride” and “Wishy Washy” had the receptive crowd fired up for the acts to follow.
Mother Mother has always been a band that has defied expectations and marched to the beat of their own drum. Never in a million years would you confuse one of their tracks for that of another band, as their material is instantly recognizable. When you hear “Monkey Tree”, “Bit by Bit” or “The Drugs” you know immediately who is performing. Much like the evening’s headlining act Arkells, Mother Mother has been cutting their teeth alongside the beloved Hamilton band, and have built a fiercely loyal fanbase by crisscrossing the country as both a supporting and headlining act. Saturday night’s set was fantastic, albeit far too short, but alas that is the problem of having far too many great tunes, you can only fit so many tracks into that supporting time slot. The set was comprised of the bigger, better known singles, but deeper cuts such as “Hayloft” and “Ghosting” got the OG Mother Mother fans up and moving. Closing out the set, the band covered Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused”, with Jasmine handling the heavy lifting, and certainly left more than a few jaws slack on the floor.
It only goes to show the career trajectory of Hamilton’s Arkells, as over the course of two and a half years, they have taken a well-polished stage show, and dialed it up to 11. Now, that’s not to say they have incorporated Nickelback’s pyro budget, nor is Tim Oxford strapped into a drum kit and sent soaring overhead of an overjoyed audience. What the band has done, is buy an impressive LED Arkells Touring Band sign that anchors the intersection of stage and catwalk that extends out into the adoring crowd. It is a set-up that is befitting of a band that has grown its following from the grass roots, up into the roaring stadium-jamming crowds that the band plays to these days. They are quite easily a band of the people, never letting the stage separate them from their fans, as Max will unabashedly head into the crowd when he feels like it, to either serenade swooning patrons, or to kick start a conga line that sashays around the perimeter of the arena floor. An Arkells show is equal parts concert and experience. Rarely are the performances the exact same.
There is little surprise that the band has a soft spot in its heart for Springsteen, and Motown music, as they manage to incorporate those sounds into their sets, bounding from a track such as “Whistleblower”, to a rousing fan favourite jam such as “People’s Champ” (a tune that even caught a little Savory’s ear and has him yelling People’s Champ during the chorus), to a number such as “And Then Some” which tugs longingly on the heart strings. Those in attendance with a keen eye would have noticed three new members of the band, as Arkells have incorporated a horn section for this tour which further elevates these beloved tunes. For a band that has not yet hit the peak of their powers, it was an impressive showing. Considering the other acts playing around the city on the final night of the Halifax Pop Explosion, it was great to see that Halifax packed the Scotiabank Centre. Between the two killer opening acts, and a fantastic headlining set from Max, Mike, Tony, Nick and Tim, it was a great way to cap off the 2019 iteration of the festival.