It smacks of cliché to paint rock and roll as religion, frontmen writhing onstage as preachers and exuberant crowds as a trembling congregation — but after sitting through an Arkells and Frank Turner show, it becomes almost impossible to shove that analogy aside.
The two acts spent most of last fall on the road together and now they're reuniting for another North American trek — culminating with a massive arena show in Hamilton, at FirstOntario Centre on Feb. 10.
- Arkells surprise cancer patient with personal backyard show
- Arkells' Max Kerman plays troubadour for wedding proposal
It's a homecoming for Arkells, and shaping up to be the band's biggest-ever headlining show. With a sellout looming as a distinct possibility, it stands as a benchmark for just how far the band has come.
It's only fitting Arkells will be be joined by folk-punk troubadour Turner and his band The Sleeping Souls. A genuine affinity and admiration has blossomed between the two outfits in their time on the road.
'Truly, rock and roll fills the place in my life that religion fills in other people's lives. Performing is a daily opportunity of restatement of purpose … it's redemptive to me.' - Frank Turner
These are touring bedfellows that don't immediately make sense — Arkells wearing their Motown roots on their sleeves, with Turner making his mark as a relentlessly touring, punk-tinged songwriter simmering in the shadow of Bruce Springsteen.
But when the two perform back to back, here's the thing: These are two of the best live rock and roll bands in the world, right now.
"We've never toured with such a kindred spirit as with Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls," Arkells frontman Max Kerman told CBC News. "We speak the same language."
It also means sharing a philosophy on what it means to play in a venue that size. Kerman says as they move into bigger venues, the band makes it their duty to "include every single person, especially those in the back row."
The idea of the two bands touring together was cooked up in a meeting room — the kind where PR people weigh business and logistics before figuring out what fits. But things quickly changed once the tour began.
"It was like a high school disco. We were like the boy and girl edging towards each other," Turner said.
By the third show, Kerman was telling Turner, "Frank, I'm stealing all of your tricks."
"And he told me he was doing the exact same thing," Kerman laughed.
Both bands are "students of rock and roll as a concept," Turner said, which helps foster the camaraderie that bleeds through glimpses of the tour seen on social media (Kerman and the band even dressed up as Turner and the Sleeping Souls for Halloween, complete with drawn on tattoos).
"Truly, rock and roll fills the place in my life that religion fills in other people's lives," Turner said. "Performing is a daily opportunity of restatement of purpose… it's redemptive to me."
It helps that no egos seem to be souring the mix. On tour, the opening band switches depending on the city they're in. In the U.S., Turner (who has headlined Wembley Stadium in England and played the 2012 Olympic Games broadcast) is the headliner, with his name carrying the most cache with ticket-buyers.
But in Canada, that flips, with Turner becoming the opening band, and Arkells (no slouches in their own right having played Juno Awards show and Winter Classic Hockey broadcasts) closing out the night.
"It's kind of fun to step out in front of somebody else's crowd and head-butt them in the face until they're your crowd," Turner said, ever ready for the challenge.
Both bands combined for two sold out shows at Toronto's iconic Massey Hall last November, with Turner joining Arkells onstage for a medley of some of Springsteen's greatest hits.
Both bands are also supporting new(ish) records, with Arkells touring on the back of Morning Report, and Turner playing songs from his latest, Positive Songs for Negative People.
Now, with thousands of tickets already sold for the Hamilton show (Arkells' first local gig in almost a year and a half) the band seems poised to make the natural jump to stadium headliner. It's both a long way and a short distance from McMaster University and the Casbah, where they got their start.
"It feel like it's the next step in a progression we've been taking since day one," Kerman said.