|Sam Roberts played the first of two shows in Toronto at Massey Hall on Friday, June 3, 2011. (Alex Urosevic, QMI Agency)
TORONTO - Playing Massey Hall as a headliner for the first time on Friday night, Sam Roberts knew he had some mighty big shoes to fill performance-wise and paused a moment to mark the occasion.
“So many of my heroes have played this stage - I’ll never forget this night,” said the likeable, handsome Montreal rocker during the first of two back-to-back shows at the storied venue that, for example, just hosted Neil Young for a two-night stand three weeks ago.
“It’s great to be here. It’s unbelievable.”
Roberts, an animated and charismatic presence, had his trusty four piece - lead guitarist Dave Nugent, keyboardist Eric Fares, bassist James Hall, and drummer Josh Trager - and often a three-man horn section by his side for the hour-and-35-minute show that kicked off with I Feel You from the group’s latest album, Collider.
The new disc came out a month ago and if anything the material still felt a little too fresh judging from the audience’s much bigger reaction to older songs like With A Bullet, Lions Of the Kalahari, Detroit ‘67, Fixed To Ruin, and Hard Road, the latter which finally saw the group shake off any early nerves, particularly Nugent as he broke out a sweet solo.
Still, the crowd was on their feet from the get go and never really let Roberts and company down in the enthusiastic department as they sang, clapped, and raised their fists in the air.
Of the new songs, Let It In, and Streets of Heaven (Promises, Promises), went over best, and Roberts does have a way with an anthemic rock chorus, as later standouts and older hits Bridge To Nowhere, Where Have All The Good People Gone, Brother Down, Don’t Walk Away Eileen and Them Kids more than proved.
Roberts, who alternated between electric and acoustic guitars, was also a commanding presence as he went without an instrument and roamed the stage during the biggest song of the night, his first big hit, Brother Down.
Nugent was pretty cute too when he dedicated the new song, Without A Map, to his parents who drove “five and a half hours to see their kid play Massey Hall,” and were also celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary.
And when Roberts had the audacity to ask about whether there were any Montreal fans in the house that prompted an impromptu chant of “Go Leafs go! Go Leafs go!”
“We can all dream,” joked Roberts, a diehard Habs fan, as the Vancouver Canucks vie for the Stanley Cup instead of Toronto or Montreal.
With any nervousness now behind him and the band, chances are Roberts’ second night on Saturday at Massey will be even better.
He certainly didn’t seem to want Friday night’s show to end as he patiently shook hands with all the fans that had gathered at the front of the stage after the concert had ended, signing off with: “We won’t forget this folks.”
I Feel You
With A Bullet
Lions Of The Kalahari
Let It In
Fixed To Ruin
Streets of Heaven (Promises, Promises)
Bridge to Nowhere
The Band vs. The World
Where Have All The Good People Gone
An American Draft Dodger in Thunder Bay
The Last Crusade
Don’t Walk Away Eileen
Without a Map