Sam Roberts Band June 6, 2011 7th St. Entry, Minneapolis
There is something to be said for music that embodies straight-ahead rock 'n roll in 100% pure form. Actually, there is a lot to be said for it. In this era of bands sounding like a mixture of [insert 2-3 bands of disparate natures here] or foolishly-named subgenres like chillwave and noise surf, the Sam Roberts Band cut through all the posturing and attempts at genrefication by putting forth song after song of simply arranged, hook-filled, pretense-free, capital-R Rock. To be fair, the no-frills approach Roberts and company have taken still invites comparisions, most closely to Bruce Springsteen and, curiously, Ted Leo in a way. It's working-class, everyman music -- and while that description causes many to immediately shun it without giving it a fair shake, it would be a mistake to do so.[jump]
The set took a bit to hit it's stride, but as they rolled into "Graveyard Shift" from their new Collider, the band was on their way to taking the crowd--some of whom had traveled from Winnipeg for the show--on a ride to remember. The bar-band style of rock is hard to do well. There are few who can do it in a manner that can be described as "ok," honestly. The Hold Steady are the current masters, but SRB are near the top of that list as well. There were just enough other elements--an echo here, some piano there, plus the set was positively slathered in saxophone--to set it apart and make it distinct enough to be heard above the din. The heart-wrenching "Twist the Knife" was a perfect example of that sentiment; laying bare a relationship sputtering it's death rattle, one party saying "enough" while the other maybe wants a final shot. The lyrics, like all of Roberts' material, are told in plain language with little metaphor, but in a way that's both universal and free of treacle and it never once sounded whiny.
Roberts engaged the crowd on several occasions as well, telling us we were all his brothers and sisters because only Minnesotans can identify the harshness of Canadian winters, much to the delight of the roughly three-quarters full Entry. Later in the set he high-fived several showgoers before breaking into what is probably his best-know song, "Them Kids," from 2008's Love at the End of The World. After a brief break, SRB returned to the stage for a veritable lullaby of an encore featuring some slightly slower material, including "Streets of Heaven (Promises, Promises)" and "Without A Map," the four-song curtain call ending with slightly more raucous "Where Have All the Good People Gone?" while Roberts encouraged the crowd to sing along with him.
Sam Roberts Band, as they're now known (they were previously billed simply as Sam Roberts featuring most of the same players), have hit on the special something that make live shows fun. There were ups and downs, crowd interactions and sing-alongs. There was zero preening or posturing. They simply got onstage and pushed for 90 minutes and put on a rock show that, no matter what kind of day you had, probably made you feel a little better at the end. And, really, there's not much more for which you could ask.
Critic's Bias: As much as I like bands that sound like something I've never heard, the sound of good rock 'n roll is like a siren song to my ears. The Crowd: An odd mix of frattish guys and bespectacled, librarian-like women. Overheard In The Crowd: "Dude, they have $3 Bud Lights at that Depot place next door. That just made my night!" Random Notebook Dump: Some of this is reminiscent of when U2 was a good band. For More Photos: See our full slideshow by Tony Nelson. Set List: