As the lights dimmed, the first waves of sound that filtered the room were malleable, pure, and invitational. What we heard was the slow burn of an anthem — one about freedom and optimism. This, combined with impeccable harmonic impression, is what gave Sam Harris our undivided attention. X Ambassadors opened their set with (what I call) the main attraction, a melody filled with textures. He got us on our tiptoes clapping our hands and stretching our arms high into the air; then he got us to sing with him, shouting “La la la” from the bottom of our hearts and participating in the magic that is the song “Free and Lonely”.
Their second song was the one that I’ve been playing on repeat for months. I already had chills running up and down my spine at this point as the band morphed into “Love Song Drug Song”, a deeply uprooting song about trying to fix a broken relationship and having blurred connections. The lyrics are raw and harsh but the layers of sound, Sam’s undeniable vocal range and the contributions by Casey Harris, Noah Felshuh, and Adam Levin was what makes me want to hit the repeat button – its heartbreakingly beautiful. During “Unsteady” I couldn’t take my eyes off of Noah Felshuh, the keyboardist. Comparable to a blonde Tom Petty, he was in his own world. The frequencies he was emitting carried us into a dreamscape tempo. Fascinatingly he was on keys which require a certain levelled balance with the instrument, but he was steering this instrument like a ship, swaying back and forth, looking up into the rafters and then below sea level (the keyboard) and coming back up for air occasionally to sing into the mic. As X Ambassadors finished their set with their newest release “Jungle”, I thought it was very fitting that they got us positively charged with emotional static before Arkells came on stage.
The support and admiration when these 5 steeltown boys came on stage was overwhelmingly beautiful. Arkells started a collective singalong to open the song “Come To Light”. I noticed a theme this evening and that is interaction – people don’t want to be bystanders, they want to BE the music, we want to participate and that’s a key feature at these events. When I listen to something that resonates with me, I don’t need any effort to promote it, I carve a space in my heart and I let it dwell there for awhile and everyone knows I wear my heart on my sleeve. That’s what I felt tonight from Arkells. These 5 Hamilton boys named their band after the street they rehearsed on, a street that shaped them musically and geographically and they brought that to us, because they love us, and it’s clearly reciprocated.
Max Kerman, Mike DeAngelis, Nick Dika, Tim Oxford and Anthony Carone were absolutely killing it on stage and while I don’t like to use that term, they definitely killed any semblance of ‘winter’ or ‘negativity’ that has been brewing in Toronto the past month. They brought alive the gratitude and Max introduced and thanked the band during an extensive interlude during Michigan Left. I remember when I first discovered them their song “Oh, The Boss Is Coming!” made me turn up the volume every time I heard it at work and laugh with anyone who was around. That same reverence for the song was felt last night as me and my newly formed friends were ecstatically shouting it alongside Max.
I am a huge fan of their latest album High Noon and when they broke into it, I felt the transformation in Danforth Music Hall. The sound of Arkells has evolved mighty finely into this electro-static buzz of a mosaic sound. My favorite song off High Noon is “Never Thought This Could Happen” and whenever I hear them play it I feel like everyone can relate to it and make it theirs. Anyone that is feeling lucky in this lifetime can pour their heart into that song and sing with them. The overwhelming love is testament what local music industry can do for a band. Community is a living thing and whether or not it thrives like wildfire is only if people with good hearts get involved. I cannot wait to hear what comes nezt from these boys – affectionately nicknamed Gentlemen of The Hammer, and adopted into the Toronto music community with open arms. What a night.
For our interview with Arkells, click here.
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Review by Stefanie Romano (@stefaloves)