The Sam Roberts Band are one of the biggest rock acts in Canada, with multiple gold records and six Juno awards (Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy). But musical success often seems to stall out at the border, sometimes inexplicably, so Roberts was pretty happy to fill Northern Lights last Friday with several hundred people.
“We were here eight, nine years ago as an opening band,” the singer-songwriter said midway through his group’s headlining set. “We had like 23 people, so to see you all here tonight is a great feeling.”
The Sam Roberts Band played Albany’s Tulip Festival back in May, and local radio stations WEXT and WEQX have been spinning the group’s excellent new album, Collider, adding to the local buzz for the Montreal band. If they don’t break out further, it will be too bad. Roberts may be a pretty face, but his smart roots-pop songs are well-crafted, with loads of catchy hooks and clever lyrics. Live, his five-piece band really smokes, in a rootsy and organic (though not hippie-meandering) way.
During their hour-and-a-half-long Northern Lights set, which was opened by Canadian indie-rockers Zeus and Glens Falls alt-rock group Pillowhead, the Sam Roberts Band played two-thirds of Collider while adding selections from their Inhuman Condition EP and three prior full-length major label albums: Chemical City, Love at the End of the World and We Were Born in a Flame.
For the dark, driving opener “I Feel You,” the intense-eyed Roberts was shrouded in stage fog, adding to the song’s spooky vibe. Lead guitarist Dave Nugent chimed in with energetic backup choruses on “With a Bullet,” a potent declaration of love. And horns man Chet Doxas (a recent touring addition) added wailing saxophone to “Fixed to Ruin” and “Let It In.” Roberts donned an acoustic guitar for the head-bopping “Twist the Knife” followed by “Detroit ’67,” a piano-and-sax-driven boogie and the straight-up rocker, “Love at the End of the World.” Roberts heeded a fan request for the mellow ballad “Words and Fire” before filling the last third of the set with barnburners, including “The Last Crusade” and “Without a Map,” two highlights from Collider.
“Cheers, Albany,” Roberts said before downing a gifted tequila shot, tossing the glass to the side of the stage, and closing with encores of the mysterious “Graveyard Shift,” the funkified “No Sleep” and the power-poppish “Don’t Walk Away Eileen.”