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Arkells bring arena-sized vibe to intimate Town Ballroom show

“The Town Ballroom is the church of rock ‘n’ roll tonight, and you’re all the non-denominational choir!”

That was singer and Energizer Bunny-like frontman Max Kerman of Arkells offering his “We’re all in this together, let’s make it work!” rallying cry to a packed Town Ballroom on Thursday night, as the band dug its heels into the first of two sold-out shows at the venue.

And if that sounds like garden-variety rock-star stage patter to you, well, you probably weren’t there, and you probably haven’t fallen for this Canadian indie-rock outfit during one of its previous rapturous Buffalo appearances.

Arkells, like the Tragically Hip, for whom the then-new outfit opened during that band’s legendary Canalside appearance a few years back, are tough to describe to the uninitiated.

One ends up sounding like a religious zealot seeking to convert an ingrate. You either get it or you don’t when it comes to this band’s uber-energetic indie rock. And if you get it, it’s likely that your epiphany came during a live show, hand delivered by Kerman, who just might be the most passionate frontman of his generation.

Throughout Thursday’s gig, the band’s first in town since the October release of its fifth album, “Rallying Cry,” Kerman worked tirelessly to break down any perceived barriers between performer and listener, bringing an enthused everyman’s work ethic to bear on Arkells’ giddily optimistic blend of indie and mainstream tropes, and involving the crowd in the process at every stage of the game.

The packed house responded in kind, singing along at deafening volume to the band’s breezily anthemic choruses, enthusiastically welcoming the singer into the crowd at several points during the show, and even taking part in Kerman’s “Who has to work in the morning? I’m gonna write you a note so you can take the day off!” poll.

Less than a week previous, Kerman and his bandmates had delivered a similar experience to a much larger “church” at the Scotia Bank Arena in Toronto, where 15,000 of the devout sold the venue out. That Kerman and his cohorts brought the same arena-rock energy to such an intimate space spoke to the on-going love affair between Arkells and Buffalo, a city Kerman insisted during the show is “pretty much another province of Canada,” to rapturous applause.

“We could’ve played at Shea’s, but there was only one venue we were gonna play in Buffalo, and that’s this place,” Kerman gushed, and this was no mere “Hello, Cleveland, are you ready to rock”-style stage banter – the band seems to have a special place in its heart for Buffalo, one of the first markets south of the Canadian border to fully embrace it.

[Read more: Buffalo a key stop as Arkells venture into America]

The set opened with a rousing “Relentless,” concluded some two hours later with an earnestly celebratory take on ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” and made stops along the way in edgy '80s alternative rock urgency, E Street Band-like juke joint sermonizing, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers-infused three-chord rawk, the wordless, arms aloft sing-along choruses endemic to modern indie, and an upbeat, open-hearted vibe that delivered on Kerman’s “Let’s take it to church, Buffalo!” incantation.

It was a joy to behold, all of it. Even more than the band’s “pop in the non-pejorative sense” songbook, even more than Kerman’s unflagging intensity, even more than the intimate, family-like vibe, the feeling of elevated elation Kerman and company summoned, maintained and celebrated throughout Thursday’s show is what we all will likely remember when recalling this night.

Arkells simply made us happy for a few hours. And these days, that’s worth more than gold.

(Arkells return for another sold-out performance at the Town Ballroom on Friday evening).



Dec. 21 in a sold-out show in Town Ballroom.

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