The Scotiabank Centre is a venue that holds a significant amount of personal reverence. it’s a room that I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the years, sitting alongside my dad watching The Voyageurs, The Oilers, and The Citadels, then in later years I was bitten by the concert bug after my mom took me to see Richard Marx and Wilson Phillips. I have taken my kids to see The Mooseheads and the Thunderbirds, but this past Friday my daughter (my eldest) got to see her first Scotiabank concert, as we bought her tickets for her birthday in August. While I was there to photograph the show, my wife and daughter were up in the stands taking it all in, and it might as well have been Christmas morning as the excitement was equally palpable.
As we neared the Scotiabank Centre, it was rather understated as everything was running like a well-oiled machine. There wasn’t that usual buzz of energy and activity outside of the venue, but we were still an hour away from Toronto’s Lights taking to the stage to kick things off. I headed into the bowels of the arena to meet up with my fellow photogs, as my family headed to their seats (but not before hitting the merch booth, where my daughter bought herself a now-beloved Arkells hoodie). Showtime neared, but even before the lights went down, the Lights and Arkells teams came out to the stage all donned in Orange T-Shirts and performed a land acknowledgement as it was the second Truth and Reconciliation Day.
Shortly after the Land Acknowledgement, Lights and her band hit the stage and launched into “Prodigal Daughter” from her fifth studio album PEP, which dropped earlier this year. The multi-talented artist burst onto the Canadian music scene back in the late oughts with a self-titled EP in 2008, which eventually led to her 2009 full-length debut The Listening. Being tasked with opening for an Arkells show must be a daunting task as well, knowing the boundless energy of Max Kerman and the band, but on this night, Lights made it look effortless. Her high-energy set got the room fired up for what was to come. Lights’ brand of rock-infused electro-pop feels like a distillation of Avril’s pop-punk princess sensibilities with the swagger and indie-electro pop sound of Metric and Emily Haines. It’s safe to say that I am well outside of Lights’ target demo, she is definitely more geared towards my daughter’s listening habits. I had a hunch that Lights would soon be added to her growing list of favourite acts.
It was a great way to open the show, and Lights’ set spanned almost her entire career, with selections dating back to 2011: “Siberia”, as well as cuts from 2014’s Little Machines, “Up We Go”, and 2017’s Skin and Bones, “We Were Here”. It’s fitting that the set featured 5 cuts from PEP, as I fully expect this album to be getting a great deal more airtime in the coming months. For an act that existed largely in my periphery, Lights definitely impressed me with her tunes and stage presence. Hopefully, we’ll see Lights return East if she hits the road in support of the new album. During the break, I checked in with my peeps in the seats, and sure enough, Lights had captured the heart of my little girl.
Thinking back to the first time I pressed play on Arkell’s 2011 release Michigan Release, it hooked me fully and completely. From its trojan horse lead single “Whistleblower”, which felt like a hold-over from Jackson Square, the vast majority of that album is infectious power-pop at its absolute best. Since that album, they have been one of the most tireless acts in the industry. If the band isn’t out on the road crisscrossing this fine country, they are in the studio, or masterfully working their social media channels. It’s one of the many reasons that Arkells are beloved in this country and have easily taken up the mantle left vacant by The Tragically Hip. The band has managed to carve out a niche of ubiquity that never manages to reach that point of being overplayed, and I’d even compare that ability to acts such as Rush and Sting, in the fact that those songs are everywhere and if you were to take in a show by those bands you’d somehow know all of the songs. I feel that Arkells have that same innate ability.
I’ve written in the past about how an Arkells show is as much an experience as it a performance. There are plenty of shows that subscribe to this seated staid mentality of taking in a show, but for any great performance it has to be a collaboration between the band and the audience. Friday night was squarely in the latter camp. That same excitement of my daughter heading in to see her first Scotiabank Centre concert was shared by those in attendance, and was on par with the exuberance and joy you could see beaming from Max Kerman as he and the band kicked off their Canadian tour. Much like the Hip, Arkells have toured this country from coast to coast making it a point to come all the way East, knowing that we will always be here to welcome the band home.
This was a night that the seats in the Scotiabank Centre largely had the night off, as lead-singer Max Kerman implored the packed house to get up and shake their butts off. The band’s growing catalogue has reached a point that you may not hear everything you want to hear (“Swing Swing Swing”) but that is really picking nits. The band’s setlist is jam-packed with a litany of bangers such as “Leather Jacket”, “11:11”, “People’s Champ”, “Dance With You” and “Knocking at the Door”. It was a fan-favourite set that left many in the crowd (such as my daughter) hoarse by the end of the night, as she spent the show singing and hollering the whole time. The other cool thing was that for the most part, Arkells and their touring band were all still rocking their orange t-shirts under their blazers, vests or jackets to show the importance of this day.
One of the many reasons folks love Arkells, is that they are constantly scanning the crowd for signs their fans bring to the show. More often than not, those signs include requests for some of the band’s more obscure material. On this night, some die-hard fans were in attendance of their eighth Arkells show and were hoping to hear “Abigail” from Jackson Square. Max and the crew knocked the rust off of it, and performed a solid rendition of the tune. As the night drew to the close, the band hit the stage for a 3-song encore, and treated the crowd to a killer cover of Abba’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”, sandwiched between the potent 1-2 punch of “Reckoning” and “You Can Get It”. The band absolutely crushed this performance. It was a set that left many faces and souls smiling. This was a show that certainly left an indelible mark on the heart of my firstborn, and on the soul of this grumpy Gen-X dad, who got to share in his little girl’s first big concert experience.