Last night (February 7), the performer and his group, Sam Roberts Band, took to the stage of the Orpheum, leading with new album title track "TerraForm" and 2014's "Shapeshifters." The atmosphere was instantly electric, despite Roberts' main interaction with the crowd being bellowing out, "What's up Vancouveeeer?!"
This would be, for the most part, the extent of any vocalization besides singing by the talented musician. The setlist was chosen well, remaining energetic and balancing the disparate sounds of his catalogue. With the bouncy "Angola" and "If You Want It," Roberts brought the light dance-y vibes, as guitarist Dave Nugent impressed with some truly stellar playing.
Despite their excellence, though, Sam Roberts and his band have somewhat stale stage presence. Sure, the band members are amiable, but Roberts rarely lets his personality shine through, making his connection with the audience feel thin. The love from the audience was certainly there — especially if the audience's reactions to the piano-kickin' "Detroit 67" and the beloved "Don't Walk Away Eileen" were any indication — but the reciprocation wasn't quite there. To his credit, Roberts tried, intermittently: "Detroit 67" found Roberts jumping around stage and coaxing echoing "Oh oh oh ohs" from the Orpheum crowd.
It was a show highlight alongside "Bridge to Nowhere" from 2006's Chemical City, one of Roberts' most stunningly lyrical and melancholic songs. Its surprisingly early placement in the setlist last night probably wasn't the best idea, but it was delivered well.
Rounding up the encore portion of the evening with "FIEND," "We're All in This Together," "Uprising Down Under" and "Brother Down," the group laid out a heavy selection of their best tracks. The latter is the type of song that repeats itself in your head for days to come, which proves Roberts' lasting songwriting power. There is something poignant and pensive, too, about the lyrics from songs like "Brother Down": "One life to live but we're doing it wrong…I think my life is passing me by…"
Sam Roberts has solidified himself as a Canadian home country hero, and a MuchMusic starboy, and Canadians appreciate that; we tend to lionize our consistent artists, and Roberts has figured that out. Onstage though, it's all about energy and personality, and Roberts could use a little more of that going forward.