It was another packed house at the Commodore, which is to be expected when you’ve got the first of two nights of a well-known Canadian musician like Sam Roberts, in Vancouver. Roberts is just one of those musicians that I didn’t like from the get-go for no reason at all. The songs that I first heard I hated but love now, so I can only think that some misguided principle lead me down the wrong path. The set-up for the band was great: when the background screens on the stage were tested, you knew it was going to look good, and the simplistic triangle that symbolizes the new album fit well as a giant centerpiece. The best way to know you’re a big deal at the Commodore is if you have a sound-guy at the very back of the dancefloor, rather than just at the sides, and boy did he ever have a big sound and lighting set-up.
The new album opened up the night with ‘Shapeshifters’ which was a weak way to start things out. I like the bright, fun sound of the song, but when you’ve got something like ‘Love At The End Of The World’ in your arsenal, there are more powerful ways to give that opening a kick. ‘Human Heat’ was the second single off the new album Lo-Fantasy and I found myself way more into what was going on, on the screens behind the band than the song. Usually, if I haven’t heard the newest album, I usually get a couple that really click with me but at this point, even though I didn’t hate the songs, I was really hoping we’d go to the back catalogue quick. So, while ‘The Last Crusade’ isn’t digging deep in history, it’s one of my favourite songs off Collider so I’ll take it. I assume it was Chet Doxas up there on sax (though apparently I’m wrong and it was Liam O’Neil), and with that song, he really gets a chance to shine, as there are some great sax parts that push the song forwards.
Then the crowd really got cheering for ‘Where Have All The Good People Gone?’, the big first single from We Were Born In A Flame and then I was really getting into it. The crowd was too, with the crowd erupting in a “Where have all the good people gone?” every time it came up. Lo-Fantasy came again in the guise of ‘Golden Hour’. Once again, don’t hate the song but this new album just doesn’t have much of a force behind it. ‘Fixed To Ruin’ (Love At The End Of The World) picked me back up and ‘Let It In’ (Collider) had a guy that must have been at least 75 years old dancing, air drumming, and throwing his fists skyward. If that’s not a sign you’re doing good, I don’t know what is.
They played parts of the music video for ‘Detroit ‘67’ mixed with archived footage up on the screens as they rocked the song out, which was a great visual, even if it really stood out as an outlier from what was playing behind them the rest of the show. ‘Metal Skin’ wasn’t doing my opinion of the new album any favours; it was just kind of moderate paced and had no bite to it. ‘Kid Icarus’? Same thing, though it was one of the Lo-Fantasy songs I liked more. The first single from Collider, ‘I Feel You’, was a welcome sound but not nearly as welcome as ‘Hard Road’ (We Were Born In A Flame). Another classic Sam Roberts song, the crowd approved heavily and sang along. Even ‘Them Kids’ (Love At The End Of The World) got some heavy cheering and dancing, contrary to the song lyrics.
Maybe I wasn’t paying attention but I think ‘Bridge To Nowhere’ was the first song that Roberts brought out an acoustic guitar for and I’m real glad he did. The Chemical City single is the song that got hooked into my brain and pulled Roberts into my life in the first place. I heard the song once and then listened to it over and over again on Youtube until I finally completely flipped in my opinion of Sam Roberts from bizarre, reasonless dislike to needing-to-buy-Chemical–City-right-now. If there was one song I needed to hear that night, that was it. The end of the set was brought on by ‘Chasing The Light’, which I felt sounded a bit off-time keys-wise, and it’s just a very different electronic sound for Roberts that doesn’t mix with what he’s done that I really love.
Thankfully though, we had an encore. Before that though, we got the treat of a weird music loop with background effects as a roadie tuned the guitars. The screen was glitching between the kind of stuff you’d have seen on Windows Media player as a visualizer skin, to a beautiful landscape that played off the look of the new album. It was really out of place and I don’t know how I feel about it.
The first single from Lo-Fantasy, that showed up a while before it was ever released, ‘We’re All In This Together’ kicked off the encore. It was livelier than the other songs from the new album and the crowd seemed more into it, so I’d give it more credit than some of the rest of Lo-Fantasy. A weaker song from Collider (in my opinion), ‘Longitude’, made it into the encore and it kind of brought me down and felt a bit out of place compared to the rest of the setlist (correction: the song was ‘Never Enough’ from Lo-Fantasy which sadly matches up with my feelings about most of the other songs on the new album). Sam Roberts wouldn’t let us down though and we got the ‘Brother Down’ (We Were Born In A Flame) that we deserved. Lots of sing-along action, and an extended instrumental section that had Roberts drop down into the crowd to get some contact with people, goes a long way in my book as a way to crush an encore. It didn’t end there though; ‘Mind Flood’, another great Chemical City song was our real end that night and it came with another extended instrumental section that left you feeling satisfied.
I love Sam Roberts; We Were Born In A Flame, Chemical City, Love At The End Of The World, and to a lesser extent, Collider, are great albums and hitting this show and getting about an hour and 45 minutes of music has gotten me hyped for Roberts music again. Lo-Fantasy though, that album has not won me over. I wanted a lot more of my favourite songs and could’ve lived with less of, or maybe different choices from the new album. That being said, there was more than enough to make me happy from the set and even though I wish I’d seen them right after Love At The End Of The World came out, I’m just happy I got to see them at all. Here’s hoping the second night went just as good, or preferably better.