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Sam Roberts Band @ The Back Room at Colectivo

Jan. 25, 2017

Jan. 27, 2017
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roberts band
Photo courtesy Pabst Theater Organization

Over the past two months, Sam Roberts Band has played venues in the Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada that range in capacity from 300 to 5,000. Their three upcoming shows in the Midwest are in venues whose capacities range from 500 to 1,500.

In other words, they’re not unknown by any means. It might come as a surprise, then, that the band played the Back Room at Colectivo on Prospect Avenue Wednesday night to a crowd of about 150. Yes, a band that should be big enough to play Shank Hall, or even Turner Hall, played in the back of a coffee shop.

Yet given the performance of Sam Roberts and co., you’d never know they were seemingly out of place. Quite the contrary, in fact: He and his band were as happy to be playing there as anywhere else. Over a 15-song, hour-plus set (and two-song encore), the Montreal five-piece played as if the crowd were two or three times its size. Leaning heavily on last year’s TerraForm and 2014’s Lo-Fantasy, Roberts largely ignored his roots rock beginnings and focused on the band’s recent forays into dance rock and synth experimentation.

Their recent studio efforts are more produced than earlier LPs, so it’d be a logical assumption that the latter would translate better in a live setting (especially given the venue). SRB proved this to be counterintuitive, however. Newer, bass-driven songs like “Roll With The Spirits” and “Angola”, and even up-tempo rockers like “Ritual Dance” and late-show highlight “Black Spark,” felt right at home next to older, folksier cuts “Detroit ‘67” and “Bridge to Nowhere.”

While the crowd wasn’t rocking out or dancing much to SRB’s grooves, they nonetheless seemed receptive to SRB and generally as engaged as the band. After all, the lack of motion could easily be attributed to the venue’s lack of room to properly move around in.

So, while Roberts may have played down his earnest folksiness in the setlist, he certainly didn’t hide the earnestness from a Canadian hockey-player-turned-musician. Giving multiple shout-outs to beer (“We all look to beer to solve our problems,” he remarked early on) and discussing common ground between his home and Milwaukee via the weather, he made everyone, fan or not, feel like his friend for the evening. Sam Roberts Band may not have played the “right” venue, but they made everyone there feel like they were in the right place.

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