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December 28, 2016

Sam Roberts Band’s modest NoHo performance thrills

Courtesy Sam Roberts Band's official website.

Courtesy Sam Roberts Band's official website.

This past Monday, Iron Horse Music Hall ushered in a new era of rock n’ roll, playing host to Canada’s Sam Roberts Band. The group of Montreal natives is currently touring the United States in support of their latest effort, “Love at the End of the World.”

The 7 p.m. performance delivered tunes from every subgenre of rock, from folk to dance.

Opening the set was Northampton’s The True Jacqueline, a band based somewhere on the quirkier side of harmony. 

While the gang of fresh-faced musicians has a broad fan base in the area, they seemed to lack the cohesion their music required on this particular evening. That said, they were warmly received and even tried out some new material for their hometown.

After a brief recess, Roberts’ Band, featuring 5 musicians clad in equally tight denim, took the stage.

A gentleman in the crowd said it best when he commented on the irony of the modest turn out. With experience at Lollapalooza and a half-dozen Juno awards under his belt, it is baffling that Roberts’ talent is not yet adequately recognized in the United States.

The band kicked off the set with the title track from their latest album, “Love at the End of the World.” Featuring driving electric guitar with a classic rock twist, the song set the standard for the evening. Roberts frolicked in place, delivering a power-packed performance, for so early in the show. 

The Northerners have a gift for combining old and new in a style that is all their own. Written about the thriving American city, the toe-tapping “Detroit ‘67” served as a perfect example of the musician’s style, moving the less reserved portion of the crowd to dance.

Bluesy keyboard accompaniment transformed the music hall into an old time bar scene. In this live setting, the song had all the precision of its recorded counterpart but with the added adrenaline of a live audience that gave it a life of its own.   

Without a doubt, the most engaging song of the evening was Roberts’ first single, “Brother Down.” He led the crowd in an elaborate sing-along, drawing out the song to grand proportions.

The meager crowd banded together to dance after Roberts jested that he had paid two of the audience members $20 to do so.  However cheesy the ploy may have been, it succeeded in getting the crowd on their feet. The floor was filled for the rest of the show.

Even without the liveliest band, Roberts would still stand out for his supremely energetic performance. He maintained his singing stamina throughout the show, without showing even the slightest signs of fatigue 

“Lions of the Kalahari,” another song off of “Love at the End of the World,” ended in an impressive jam session that showed off Roberts’ virtuosic guitar skills. The band had exceptional tangible cohesion, seeming to know exactly what the other was going to play next and building on that knowledge.

“Words and Fire” was a trip to the softer side of rock. More melody driven than his other work, Roberts’ acoustic songs were well worked into the set.

Switching off between acoustic and electric, the music took on a different identity with each new song.

Despite having awoken at 3 in the afternoon, Roberts complimented the town and their venue, saying that he was glad to have awoken in such a unique town with such nice people to play for. For a refreshing change, the comment came across as genuine.

After leaving the crowd salivating for more, Roberts and company returned to stage for a 2-song encore. The quality of a show can be measured by whether the audience is left wanting more, and Roberts certainly achieved this. Even after the encore the crowd waited for another return to the stage, a sure sign of a great performance.

The final song of the night, “Mind Flood” ended the encore on a high note, building up to an ambitious jam, with each member contributing the loudest, most complex improvisation they could conjure with an entrancing effect.

After the show, the band loitered outside to meet and greet their American fans.

The combination of Roberts’ energy, innovation, and down to earth attitude makes him one of Canada’s finest exports to date.

Angela Stasiowski can be reached at atasiow@student.umass.edu

Angela Stasiowski can be reached at atasiow@student.umass.edu

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