It takes a special artist to sell out The Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix long before day of show, but it’s to be expected when that artist hasn’t been to town in awhile. So, it felt like somewhat of a homecoming on Sunday night when Arkells and St. Lucia graced the downtown venue with their presence and took us on a wild ride.
Arkells just joined the tour as the opening act, making Phoenix their first stop of stateside theaters, European venues, and ending with Canadian stadiums next spring. It was also the first show they played since the release of Rally Cry, their fifth studio album that dropped last Friday. Needless to say, the newness of touring and the addition of a whole LP of fresh songs gave Arkells energy that could have filled a stadium with no problems.
The crowd matched this energy, seemingly a large proportion having shown up for these longtime rockers. They were ready to groove from the smash success opener “Knocking at the Door” and throughout the latest batch of setlist inclusions.
Arkells have made strides on every single album over the last ten years, and Rally Cry is no different, capturing the rebellious and galvanizing energy of their live performances and inserting in into recorded form—no easy feat. The result: bold riffs, spirited percussion, eager vocals, and a restlessness born from constant touring and endless creativity. This is the latest wave of protest music, and damn does it sound good.
“This song is about the leader of the free world,” frontman Max Kerman murmured with a smirk on his face. Equal parts of the audience cheered and booed, and Kerman broke into a smile while the band launched into “People’s Champ.”
Not that they intend to push buttons—Kerman has long cited the goal of their music as a way to offer an outsider’s perspective instead of hitting listeners over the head with a specific message. So, fans from both sides of the aisle jumped and danced as Arkells reminded us that rock and roll is not dead.
The genre is very much alive, especially in the sense that it’s drawing from decades past. St. Lucia is one of these artists making music that is often compared to popular sounds of the 80s, and it translated into a pop-rock party on Sunday night. (Their latest project, last month’s LP Hyperion, was produced by Rob Kirwan, responsible for records by Depeche Mode, U2, and more)
“September” served as an explosive opener, complete with strobe lights, setting the tone for a bright and vibrant set. Except here is what was interesting: you can tell the stakes are higher, the boundaries are being pushed, even with their older songs. Frontman Jean-Philip Grobler and wife and bandmate Patricia Baranek had their first child late last year and have put that new perspective into their music.
Hyperion and its tracks, then, are a bit more experimental than past records. There are layers of futuristic pop, grand-scale gospel, and traditional rock all coming together with lyrics addressing political topics and the deeper issues beneath them. “Gun” and “Walking Away,” both discussing power, made it into Sunday’s set.
St. Lucia still kept their performance fun and engaging, even though they didn’t talk much between songs. Instead, they mixed in old favorites like “Dancing on Glass” and “Closer Than This” that brought the bleachers to their feet.
Closing with an encore of “Before the Dive” and “Elevate,” St. Lucia left us intrigued. They’re still as fun as ever, but after seeing new sides of them with the Hyperion tracks, the question remains to be answered: What will they do next?
Story and photos by Taylor Gilliam