Five hundred 20 days, 12,480 hours, 748,800 minutes, 44,928,000 seconds – no matter how you turn the numbers, it has been centuries ever since members of the Hamilton Arkells rock band took to a concert stage.
That spell without live performances finally ends on Friday with the first of the five-piece band’s three appearances on the 75-percent Budweiser Stage with starter Haviah Mighty, also marking the end of the concert drought. expensive it has plagued. Toronto residents since COVID-19 reared its ugly head in March 2020.
“It’s really exciting!” exclaims Arkells frontman Max Kerman over mid-morning drinks Monday at Cafe23 on Queen Street West, recalling a charity concert for the Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse’s foundation at the X Hotel before Hell will break loose.
The date, March 11, 2020, is indelibly etched in Kerman’s mind.
“We were all very excited – a fancy little dinner for 100 guests and Nick would join us on stage for a couple of songs,” recalls Kerman, dressed in a black Live Nation T-shirt, shorts and a pink baseball cap. . .
“Daniel Caesar also acted. It was very, very memorable because, in the air, people were talking about COVID or were aware that something was going to happen. “
Kerman says he and the band – guitarist Mike DeAngelis, keyboardist Anthony Carone, bassist Nick Dika and drummer Tim Oxford – were gleefully joking about the virus in their dressing room.
“We were jokingly doing elbow punches instead of shaking hands. Since it was a hotel, they had televisions in the dressing room and CP24 was on. Dinner is happening and we are in about an hour, and we see on the television ticker ‘Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks have COVID-19’. We think, ‘Are they going to die?’
“About an hour later, the first NBA case appears with the symbol: ‘Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive.'”
Suddenly Kerman experienced a sobering realization.
“’Wait a sec – the Raptors just played Utah two days earlier, and I just shook hands with Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, the two greats who would have been defending Rudy two days ago – they’re at this event. Half the team is in this event. ‘
The four-time Juno Award winners took the stage as scheduled as the reality of the crisis spread through the crowd.
“We played a 30-minute set and I could see that everyone in the room wasn’t really marked, it’s supposed to be a fun night,” Kerman recalls. “I think the Raptors had been taken out of the room just as we were starting to play, because they had to go home and isolate themselves immediately.
“And I thought, ‘Wow, this is definitely serious, but it’s only going to last a couple of weeks and we’ll be back on the road soon enough.’ That’s the last time we played in front of a crowd. “
Fortunately for the band and their fans, they had completed most of their upcoming sixth studio album “Blink Once,” due for release on September 22, during two previous trips to Los Angeles.
“There were some remote sessions in Canada that we did through Zoom,” says Kerman. “We were also able to do a lot of things at home … That’s how we were able to finish them.”
The unpredictable launch of the pandemic made planning release dates nearly impossible, but they kept busy, releasing their acoustic album “Campfire Chords” in the meantime and the Christmas single “Pub Crawl.”
“Through the mood of the entire pandemic, we’ve given ourselves a lot to work on,” says Kerman. “We were sitting on the ‘Blink Once’ material from Los Angeles and thinking, ‘Do we really want to release it right now?’ Do not! We want to put out these great energetic songs that we can play live.
“Now it feels more like the time when people hang out on their balcony or in their backyard or in their cabin listening to calm and relaxing music. Our audience seems to enjoy the acoustic versions of our songs, so let’s record ‘Campfire Chords’ entirely from home. “
And when they weren’t working hard on “Campfire Chords,” each Arkell worked on self-improvement.
“Tony built his home studio. Mike learned to play the piano very well on his own. Nick practiced bass five hours a day. People have been really productive, ”says Kerman.
As the pandemic progressed, Arkells began releasing singles from “Blink Once”: “You Can Get It,” featuring K. Flay, “All Roads,” “Years in the Making,” and “One Thing I Know.” “Swing Swing Swing” comes out on Thursday.
They also made tentative plans with Live Nation president Erik Hoffman to reopen the venue once it was deemed safe to do so, paving the way for future Budweiser Stage shows hosted by Sam Roberts, Matt Mays, and k-os (19 de August); Blue Rodeo with Alan Doyle (August 28) and Maroon 5 (September 2).
“We were talking to him and we were like, ‘We’d love to be the first on Budweiser Stage when the world opens up … if it’s summer. So can you write to us there so we can be the first thing to come back? I was in that idea.
“Of course, that date moved a lot.”
When the Ontario government finally loosened meeting restrictions, Arkells was looking for 30 percent capacity.
“On sales day, it was increased to 75 percent of its capacity,” says Kerman. “That was very exciting and changed the scope of the show, knowing that more people would come.”
With an estimated 10,000 people now ready to rock out for the first time in 17 months, Kerman says there is “an endless list of things that need to be taken care of.”
“When you try to entertain so many people, you have to be really strategic in every detail,” he explains. “Two examples: we are working with a new lighting rig, so what does each song look like? There have been several meetings. What does the song list look like? What are we doing in the acoustic moment of the night?
“It is a lot to consider. Because we’ve always been on the road pretty consistently, you’re building on the following and the exercise lately has been, ‘OK, what was the moment here … how does this song transition from that song?’ You have to start from zero to one grade. “
Kerman says audiences will hear a number of favorites (possibilities include “Leather Jacket,” “Whistleblower,” “John Lennon,” and “Knocking on the door”) and a host of previously unperformed material.
“There are so many songs that we’ve never played live before,” says Kerman. “From ‘Campfire Chords’, ‘Quitting You’ to all the material on the new album. We played ‘Years in the Making’ at the Nick Nurse event and we haven’t played it since. “
When it comes to COVID-19 security protocols, Kerman says Live Nation will comply with government regulations.
“We are in this funny gray area, right?” Kerman asks rhetorically. “I know that the place has worked a lot with the government to talk about what we can do, so there will be some social distancing and I think the rule is that of masks, unless you are actively drinking or eating.
“This is an open-air amphitheater, which according to science is a pretty safe place if you’re outside.
“For our part, we have been quite active on social media promoting the vaccine. Our crew is vaccinated. Our musicians are vaccinated. Those are conversations we’ve had constantly over the past few months to make sure everyone is safe. “
Those restrictions aside, Kerman says Arkells has only three rules for who attends his show.
“We really deliberately set a positive tone when people walk through doors: you have to sing; they have to dance and they must treat each other well, they must be good to their neighbor.
“That is more important than ever, especially now that people are nervous. Simply encouraging generosity of spirit is the positive approach we try to establish with the people who come to the show. “
The joys of being back on stage
Each member of Arkells shared what they look forward to when they return to live performance.
Tim Oxford: “I think it will be exciting to do it again. It will be very special to go out again and see the energy of the crowd again. “
Mike DeAngelis: “Being able to play music with people, in front of people, in a live environment – that’s my favorite part of being part of a band. I miss him so much. “
Tony Carone: “I am excited to play some of the new songs. We’ve been working on this album since 2019 and we wonder, ‘Are we ever going to play these songs live?’ It will be great “.
Nick Dika: “There are a lot of little things about playing itself, and this is super granular, but just feeling the air from a speaker hitting you while you’re playing, physically feeling the drums hit hard when you’re standing there. “
Max Kerman: “The most satisfying thing for me on stage is seeing a bunch of strangers sing together, especially if it’s something we write. That’s the coolest thing of all. I also try to enjoy all the little things more: stick my head out and see everyone get to their seats; the conversations that happen before we go on and the warm-up – we sing a lot as a group before we go on – I love that. My favorite part, especially if I get into my head during the show and think too much, I think, ‘Just go see the other guys’ and that will get me out of it. “