Alternative rock band Arkells often play stadium shows in Canada, but from Nov. 1-2, they could be found playing a mix of their original music along with Motown classics, for back-to-back nights at a small bar in Banff, Alta.
The Hamilton, Ont. band are known for their upbeat alternative rock music and are currently on tour promoting their 2018 album, Rally Cry. Throughout their tour, Arkells have played shows in venues including Rogers Place in Edmonton, a sold out show at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto and our very own Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
Arkells have worked their way up through venues in Calgary, starting with smaller shows at venues like The Gateway and Macewan Hall, up to venues like the BMO Centre and the Saddledome. These shows in Banff represent a return to their early roots.
On Nov. 1-2, the band made a return to Alberta to take part in X92.9’s One Weekend Only event at Wild Bill’s Legendary Saloon in Banff. The show was only open to those who won tickets through a radio contest for X92.9 in Calgary and X100.7 in Red Deer.
In the past, the event has utilized two different bands as a headliner for the back-to-back shows. Although, this year was different. Arkells and X92.9 decided to do one night of a regular set and the other night as a party set.
The party set took place on the Saturday night and had a strong focus on Motown classics, including renditions of hit songs like Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and The Jackson 5’s I Want You Back.
This isn’t the first time the band has taken on Motown, having released a limited edition record in 2014 titled, Arkells Sing Motown, which contained two songs: Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) and Get Ready by the Temptations.
Max Kerman, Arkells lead singer, says he grew up listening to a lot of Motown because of his dad.
“My dad went to University in Detroit, and he had all these records with him. He was a DJ at their college radio station.”
The band played their first live Motown set early on in their career about 10 years ago at a show in Toronto because they wanted to do something special.
“We thought it would be fun just to try to learn 10 songs and play them at three in the morning for a bunch of drunk people at Canadian Music Week, and that’s what we did, and it was an amazing time,” says Kerman.
Over the years since that show, Kerman says the band continues to go back to those songs and that genre for special events. They started their set at the 2013 Toronto Urban Roots Festival with five songs, calling it their “Motown Revue”.
“It allows us to do something a little bit different,” says Kerman. “As a touring band, you want to be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat sometimes and have some moves that maybe are a bit unexpected. For us to be able to play two hours of soul music with a horn section is something I’m pretty proud of.”
Despite the strong Motown focus, the Saturday night set included a variety of classics, ranging from Hall and Oates, to Whitney Houston and ABBA. For the Nov. 2 set, they finished their set with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark, along with an opening act of Said the Whale.
Playing two nights as the headliner allowed the Arkells to play a couple of “deep cut” tracks fans would not regularly hear. Songs like A Little Rain (A Song for Pete), Never Thought This Would Happen and John Lennon gave the fans who travelled to Banff an added bonus of Arkells music.
Kira Bryan, a fan who flew in from Vancouver for the weekend, has seen the band perform live on multiple occasions, including the recent show at the Scotiabank Saddledome. However, the One Weekend Only show was different.
“The Motown set provided a unique experience that really stood out compared to the Arkells’ other shows,” says Bryan.
Ultimately, the show will not be forgotten by many of the fans who attended.
“I have a video of the same verse of Hand Me Downs from the nosebleeds of the Saddledome last year, and from the first row at this show. I’m still trying to process that this weekend actually happened,” says Bryan.
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- By Sam Phelps and Nicholas Montpetit-Skuba