Story by Mat Taylor, photos by the Rebel Reviewer
It was a mild yet drizzly day for the second annual Hillside Inside one-day rock fest at Guelph Ontario’s Sleeman Centre. Attempting to rope in a crowd of cold-weather hippies and hipsters alike during the winter months, the Hillside (outside) Festival organizers continue to pull in big bands from a variety of genres for their junior musical venture.
Enter this year’s biggest draw, the Sam Roberts Band. Fresh off a North American tour with The Stills, Roberts and co. have nailed their live performance down to a science.
The set jumped to life – after an awkward introduction by Guelph’s most awkward, but most endearing radio host, Vish – with new single Detroit ’67. The rollicking blue collar piano-based jam got the crowd swaying and the beer flowing. It felt like something Bob Seeger would open with.
Up to this point you see, the day had been dominated largely by folk, some hip-hop, folk and some solo act joker. Buy and large this was the set everyone was waiting for. Being my seventh Sam Band show, I wasn’t expecting any surprises or truly eye-popping moments, but the band was on their game – and they were winning.
The set was peppered with cuts from their newest LP, Love at the End of the World, including the infectious tongue-in-cheek Them Kids. Being the first hit off the record, the crowd loved it and began surfing and swaying in unison. As the set continued, it seemed to get better and better as the hollowing effect of the hockey arena was minimal, almost non-existent. If there is one thing these guys can do, and do very well, its play loud and hard, while still coming off clean and clear. Constant years of recording and touring have been kind to the talent these guys seem to ooze.
Another notable number was the albums title track, which skiffles along with a soft low-end and really showcases Sam’s vocals. Stripmall Religion digs at the fact that our darkening consumer culture is largely based on gimmicks and television and is essentially becoming a downward spiral – that’s right; Sam and the boys can do politics too.
A few numbers from their Australian recorded disc, Chemical City, popped up and showcased the groups more psychedelic side. The best song of the set, and one of their best tracks of all time, With a Bullet, was received very well and featured the organ and some creative drumming.
Closing the show, as I’ve seen before is Chemical City cut, Mind Flood. On record, it rocks around the 4-5 minute mark. In a live setting, they jam this thing for 15 minutes with all sorts of dueling psyched-up guitars overtop beefy organ licks. All the while they are moving about the stage as if it is their second home. Newest member and drummer Josh Trager really lets loose here too, bashing the cymbals along with 70’s era fills.
With this group it isn’t hit and miss, its hit and hit. They belong on stage taking their great records and breathing some electricity into them – feeding off the crowd and showing that this is what Canadian rock is all about.