by Juliette Paige
On Thursday, November 16th, I was gifted with the performances of two incredible bands, which ended up being one the best live concerts I have ever seen.
Los Angeles-based band IRONTOM is best known for their eclectic mix of alternative, psychedelic, and funk rock sound. My introduction to IRONTOM was seeing them in concert in June 2017, and I was completely blown away by the band’s collective talent and contagious energy. Normally, when I come across a new song that I really like, I would hope that the band is as good live as they are on record. When I saw IRONTOM live in concert, however, I legitimately hoped that they were as good on record as they were live (spoiler alert: they are).
Hailing for Ontario, Canada, Arkells have been rocking the alternative rock music scene for the past decade. Their sound has evolved from easy listening alternative rock to a new rock sound with pop and hip-hop influences. Arkells released their most recent album, Morning Report, in 2016, and released a deluxe version of the album in 2017, which includes the alternative hit song “Knocking At The Door.” Bringing IRONTOM along with them, Arkells are now wrapping up their Knocking At The Door tour in North America.
Having followed both IRONTOM and Arkells for a substantial amount of time, I was concerned about how the two bands would flow together in a concert. In my interview with Arkells frontman Max Kerman the week before, I couldn’t help but ask how they decided to have IRONTOM open for them on their tour. Max stated that “[Arkells] saw of show of them in Chicago in the spring and we really like them… They definitely got something crazy going on, and they’re really entertaining to watch. Even though our bands have different music, the spirit of IRONTOM is really similar to what we try to do.”
His statement didn’t make sense until I stepped into The Sinclair in Cambridge and saw their performances live. The venue was filled with loyal Arkells fans who ranged from high school students to young married couples. The lights went out, and IRONTOM charged the stage with incredible energy that cannot be described by words. In the first 10 seconds of their performance, they had the entire venue of soon-to-be new IRONTOM fans on their feet dancing.
They began with “More to Explore” off their debut album, Partners, and the crowd had their first taste of how IRONTOM performs. They don’t play music, they feel music. Zach Irons (guitarist) looks like he comes from another decade, with his grown-out hair and ridiculously guitar-shredding skills. Harry Hayes (vocals) comes from another dimension by the way that he feels the music. He channels influences from Freddie Mercury and David Bowie in the way that he expresses himself onstage. This includes continuing to sing and yell, even when he’s off mic. Between songs, the audience kept asking one another what Hayes was saying between singing verses. In my interview with Hayes, he mentioned that “it’s just an expressive thing. I will sometimes say stuff to myself, but it’s hard to say. It’s such a fun thing performing because it’s a time where you can emote whatever you’re feeling or dealing with – good and bad things.”
IRONTOM continued their set with “Going Slow,” a track from an early EP, and more tracks off their debut album, including “Live Like This,” “No Matter What,” and “Partners.” Each song was extended and featured an incredible guitar solo by Irons. While the tracks come off as punchy, energetic, hard core rock, the songs tell stories of breaking out of social molds, hurting from falling in love, and being vulnerable to old and new loves.
After thanking the audience for their presence and for rocking out hard with them, IRONTOM closed with their most popular song, “Be Bold Like Elijah.” The band played an extra minute of pure instrumentals, and the audience was invited to jump high, rock out, and let loose. While IRONTOM’s music was much more “hard-core rock” than Arkells, they left the energy high in the venue. IRONTOM was a performance to remember by the whole crowd, regardless if they had any previous knowledge of the band.
Next, the band the crowd was anxiously waiting for, Arkells, stormed the stage to roars and cheers. Arkells’ set was filled with nostalgic energy; it was filled with old and new tracks that would pull the energy up and then drop it down for a more intimate moment.
They jumped straight into “Making Due” from Morning Report and “Come To Light” from High Noon. Both songs swayed to their upbeat pop-rock sound, which made for a nice transition from IRONTOM’s alt-rock into their more intimate sound. Arkells then paid tribute to The Talking Heads with a cover of “Take Me to the River,” which definitely won the hearts of the older fans in the crowd.
If there was an audience interaction award, Arkells would win hands down. As a personable frontman, Max Kerman would make the best, cheeky lines between and before songs:
“Alright Boston! I need to know… what time is it here in Boston?!” And then everyone yelled their hearts out: “11:11!” A wonderful lead up to their hit song, “11:11.”
“I think this next one is especially appropriate since we’re here in Cambridge, and Harvard is right next door.” Then the piano riff came in and everyone was soon singing the lines to “Private School.”
The band brought a random audience member on stage to play guitar for a few verses, and Max ran into and danced within the crowd during “Drake’s Dad” (which, yes, is about Drake’s dad).
Then Max Kerman took down the tempo and talked about how unpredictable life can be. He recalled a story of being at a party and hooking up with an ex-girlfriend, who is now his present girlfriend (sorry, ladies). Arkells then performed an acoustic version of “And Then Some,” a song that Max wrote after that party. He invited us to pull out our phone’s flashlight and sing along to the chorus: “I adore you because you don’t care where I came from / Just kiss me in the dark while my lips are numb / And I love every inch of you and then some.”
He continued the story by saying the power went off at the party, so his friend brought out his acoustic guitar for Max to play. Max said he wanted to recreate that moment, so he made the audience quiet, the lights turned off, and he started singing “Whistleblower” off microphone. All of sudden, the show transformed from a rock show into an acoustic, intimate set that felt like a show in a living room.
They picked up the energy after and finished the set with “Dirty Blonde” and “A Little Rain,” which had the audience cheering and howling for more. This was the point when my pre-concert concerns were relieved. Arkells soon returned on stage and brought along with IRONTOM. Zach Irons of IRONTOM and Mike DeAngelis of Arkells started shredding on the guitar, which was the beginning of an epic cover of Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage.’ In that moment when all nine musicians on stage were rocking out, I realized that both bands really did have the same spirit. IRONTOM and Arkells are both paving their own path in the alternative rock music scene in their own way, and they’re all about good vibes and having a good time.
Finally, Arkells finished the show off with the song we were all waiting for: “Knocking At The Door.” Screaming the chorus was incredible liberating, and I wouldn’t have wanted the concert to have gone any other way.
Both bands had live performances that were genuine and passionate. I left The Sinclair feeling rejuvenated with the reminder that that is why I love rock and roll music. Keep your eyes and ears out for future concerts. IRONTOM shared that they will be returning to Boston in February. Arkells are continuing their headlining tour in Canada and will be coming back to the America in December.