Chances are you’ve never heard of Arkells even though they’ve been dropping under-the-radar powerhouse indie tracks for over a decade, have won multiple Juno awards (Canadian Grammys), and have toured extensively since the mid ’00s with major acts like Anti-Flag, Them Crooked Vultures, X Ambassadors, Tokyo Police Club, and Lord Huron to name a few. Their core indie rock/Americana sound is bolstered with clear influences from motown, funk, soul, blues, and even a bit of country—all backed backed by lyrics as poignant and memorable as they are catchy.
With this something-for-everyone sound, they’ve developed a devoted fanbase in the U.S. that is as much a part of the show as the band. Playing to a sold out crowd at U Street Music Hall in Washington, D.C., Arkells eased into the energy of the evening with their driving track “Relentless” off 2018’s Rally Cry. For most bands, a song like this would have left the energy nowhere to go but crashing down—but Arkells are not most bands, and their fans are not most crowds. “Relentless” was a fitting kickoff and an apt description of the sheer energy and enthusiasm the band brought to every moment of their 19-song set, powering through fan favorites like “Leather Jacket” and “Michigan Left.”
High points of the night included a brief pause to write a “sick note” for a fan who had to work the next day, inviting a saxophone-toting fan named Mark to lead a conga line through the packed crowd for “People’s Champ,” playing “Dirty Blonde” from the Rally Cry Tour’s unique 1-800 request line and inviting the fan and her partner on stage to direct the ensuing dance party. Even this CliffsNotes version of the night gives you some idea of what it is to be part of that crowd: the intoxicating energy and frenetic movement, the rhythm pulsing up through the floor, the deafening moments when every voice is pitched to its peak singing along, sure to be hoarse the next morning. My personal favorite came mid-way through the night with the ballad “And Then Some:”
And when I’m gone, do you think about me? When you dream, do I make the screen? And this love came so easily Can you see it shining there up on the marquee? I adore you because you don’t care where I came from Just kiss me in the dark while my lips are numb And I love every inch of you and then some And then some and then some
– “And Then Some,” from Morning Report (2016)
The U.S. leg of the Rally Cry Tour has wrapped up as the band heads into the summer festival season with appearances at Firefly (Dover, Delaware), TRNSMT (Glasgow, Scotland), Lollapalooza (Chicago, Illinois), and more. Shooting Arkells was an experience I won’t soon forget, and I can’t wait to see them rock another D.C. club to its bones down the line.