Photographs by Kevin Leung.
Though the weather was blisteringly cold outside people were able seek refuge inside Massey Hall where the air was warm and the room was full. With a crowd of all ages from preteens with their middle aged parents to young couples celebrating Valentine’s Day to much older guys who wanted to feel young again while rocking out. The show began promptly with The High Dials a band from Montreal that plays a mixture of classic rock, psychedelic and pop. The second song they played was Echo’s In Empty Rooms, something that was slightly ironic as the venue was still half empty and the people were slowly filing in finding their seats while they played. Their backbeat was the strongest sound with a thumping drum and bass but they had shoegaze guitar and newwave-meets-classical synths bubbling under the surface. Their music alternated between rock heavy and old school rhythm and blues, but their music was at its best when they went full on psych rock that had shades of Spiritualized.
As soon as the Sam Roberts Band came out in almost pitch black almost all the crowd got on their feet and started cheering. You could see guitarist Dave Nugent waving to the crowd to make more noise. The band started out with Shapeshifters the first song off their newest album 2014’s Lo-Fantasy. Roberts must have been feeling quite romantic on this night as it seemed like after every song he would say things like “Thank you very much Massey Hall. We are Sam Roberts Band from Montreal”. The band has changed their sound a few times, they busted out The Last Crusade, which had a very bluesy feel to it showing their maturation in sound.
The sing-a-longs started when they played one of the few older songs of the Sam Roberts catalogue with Where Have All The Good People Gone. It seemed like the crowd really wanted plenty of older material to be played, the songs that made him a force in Canada, but unfortunately we only got a few songs from 2006 and earlier albums. The band while proficient at playing seemed to be lacking a full sound, with several of the instruments not cutting through to fill the space. Roberts who normally has a really powerful voice only sounded great when he was yelping along to songs with urgency, the rest of the time he seemed to just go through the motions. There were two giant projector screens set up behind the band showing mostly spacey graphics taking us on a journey. During Where Have All The Good People Gone the images changed to show the backs of the band and the crowd roaring along. They had a camera set up on one of the amps and a few times throughout the night we would become the stars.
With the current set up and style of playing the band had elements of ZZ Top and Sloan mixing blues with indie pop rock. All three levels of the venue seemed to be packed, a rare feat for even the most popular acts that roll through. “Playing Massey Hall is a dream come true and the worst dream. You get to play on the same stage as Neil Young and Gordon Lighfoot but bad because you can hear every single note. This is us naked up here.” Both Roberts and Nugent had red roses on their lapel’s making them look like the classy gentlemen they are. Before busting into Detroit ’67, what looked like old stock footage of a newscaster talking about the city of Detroit played and then during the song it was a montage of the rise and decline of one of the great American cities. Fittingly they upped the Motown rock-and-soul feel for the song.
“One of the many uses of love is to save you from eternal damnation.” Love at the End of the World started out with a hypnotic Helter Skelter feel before going into a rolling rock song by the time the chorus kicked in. Aside from telling the crowd how much he loved us Roberts also spent a lot of time thanking The High Dials from opening. Apparently Roberts went to school with front man Trevor Anderson back in Montreal. Roberts threatened to release photos of the two of them at a very young age to embarrass them both down the line. One of the few older songs that they played was the excellent Hard Road. While the first half of the set was a bit rocky the band seemed to settle into a good groove in the second half, finally feeling comfortable with the very large high ceilinged venue. When they were at their best all six band members were going all out like Santana at Woodstock, lost in the music. Throughout the night Roberts was pulling double duty playing lead guitar and singing. He spent the night using his electric guitar, but when he switched it out for an acoustic he played a beautiful rendition of Bridge To Nowhere, perhaps the band’s biggest hit.
The band left for a very short encore break while some form of electronic music played with spacey imagery broken up by some sort of zen like music with images of nature. They came out and played We’re All In This Together and the front few rows bum rushed the stage to crowd around the front and dance around. Roberts shared an anecdote about how no matter what he tries to write about it all comes back to the same thing, which lead into Uprising Down Under, “The word love comes up in almost every single song I write, even when I try not to. This one goes out to all the lovely’s out there.” During Brother Down, Roberts ditched his guitar so he could run around on stage more freely and sing to all reaches of the crowd. During the songs breakdown he picked up the camera on the amp and put it on all the people up front while he shook peoples hands. Their final song of the almost two hour set was Mind Flood from Chemical City, a song that is already eight minutes but the band seemed to go on for an epic ten minutes or more. After the set was over Roberts took the time to shake hands and allow people to take pictures until it seemed like everyone was satisfied, which after the set he played everyone surely left feeling pleased.