Hamilton, Ont., isn’t that far from Buffalo.
A mere 65-mile cruise up the QEW, the Canadian city has a rich manufacturing history, lives for its (Tiger-Cats) football and has a downtown now experiencing its own incremental renaissance. It’s a locale that has a lot in common with Western New York — which may be one reason why frontman Max Kerman and his Hamilton-born Arkells sound so familiar here.
Sure, the Juno-winning quintet — whose ebullient early summer show at Canalside was one of last season’s highlights — is not the first Canadian band to connect with Queen City audiences. From Sam Roberts to Kim Mitchell, denim-clad guitar heroes from across the border have historically enchanted locals from one chord to another. The Arkells are the latest band to snare fans with infectious hooks, fist-pumping refrains and hometown-influenced lyrics that are coincidentally emblematic of neighboring Buffalo’s ethos.
Team these elements with an onstage exuberance that reflects this city’s youthful resurgence and it’s no wonder the band has become must-see material.
In anticipation of the band’s sold-out concert Dec. 11 at Town Ballroom (681 Main St.), I caught up with Kerman to discuss his and the band’s connection to Buffalo, as well as what fans should expect at the show.
Question: Growing up in Hamilton, what did you know about Buffalo before you started coming here on a regular basis?
Answer: My dad and I would always go on baseball road trips through the Northeast to see both major and minor league teams. I remember being 10 or 11 years old and going to a Bisons game with a friend and his father, who won a $100 gift certificate to Wegmans at the game. Over the last five years, I’ve been down a bunch to see NCAA basketball and Sabres games, and have always loved coming into Buffalo.
Q: How has the band’s relationship with the city evolved to the point that, now you’re a band that can lure thousands of people to the city’s waterfront like this past summer?
A: Yeah, it’s been pretty amazing. We’ve been lucky because, as a band, you’re always looking for people to champion your work, to help get your foot in the door. For us in Buffalo, it’s been (Town Ballroom co-owner) Donny Kutzbach. He booked our first Buffalo show in 2009, is real passionate about music and has been a great friend to the band. And as a band, you want a guy like him in every city because, if there is, you’ll have a career.
Q: Do you think there’s an aspect of the band’s music that’s allowed you guys to connect so strongly with Buffalo audiences, or do you think it’s simply been a matter of exposure?
A: I think it’s a combination of a couple of things, but Buffalo’s a very Canadian city, with a real soft spot for Canadian bands. That gives us a real leg up, being associated with the same lineage Canadian rock and roll, from bands like the Tragically Hip down to Sam Roberts.
Q: What are some things you and the band look forward to when coming to town?
A: Every time we leave Hamilton to tour, we’ll come back to find new coffee shops and restaurants because there’s a lot going on in the city. When I see this, I feel so proud and excited seeing real change happen. On a certain level, it’s the same in Buffalo. Every time we come back, we get a little tour to see what’s new. That’s such an exciting thing, to see and feel tangible change and progress being made.
Q: This past summer, “High Noon” was officially certified Gold. What’s been your favorite song off the album to play live, and why?
A: “Leather Jacket,” which almost got left off the record. Sometimes, you’re so inside the music that it’s hard to step back and see how people react to it. Seeing that song take off and become our show-closer and real crowd-pleaser has been great.
Q: What should fans expect on Friday at Town Ballroom?
A: The fun thing about this part of the tour cycle is that, when you first play the new record live, you don’t really know how to play the songs yet and probably thinking about each more than you ought to. But now, since we’ve been playing the songs [off “High Noon”] for the last year, we’ve finally gotten good at playing them and can have a bit more fun.
Plus, the show’s been sold out for a couple of weeks. When that happens, you know there’s an energy building toward the night. Between the band and the fans, you know everyone’s going to be ramped up and ready to go, so it should be great.
Who: The Arkells with Pentimento
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Town Ballroom (681 Main St.)
Tickets: Sold out