Thank you, Sam Roberts
Sam Roberts rocked my world.
There is no other way to put it. When I saw that Canadian indie-rock star perform recently in Asheville, something shook loose in me. I was dancing wildly, with a crazy freedom I had honestly never felt before. I was whooping at the end of each song, and I was smiling at the other concert goers as if we were all good friends. Did I mention that I went totally alone? It didn’t matter, though. I was feeling more inspired than I had been in months, and I wasn’t even at a church or on a mountain top somewhere. I was at the Grey Eagle and feeling incredibly lucky about it.
I’m not putting this out there to make you feel bad about missing the show (which I know you did, because there were a scant 50 or so of us there). Nor I am trying to persuade you to buy the Sam Roberts Band’s newest CD, “Collider,” though I think you should. I’m writing because I’m still too giddy not to. The concert was just that good.
Anyone who’s ever trekked to The Grey Eagle knows it’s a great venue, if not a terribly ritzy place. It has a good-sized stage and a wide-open, wooden floor, equally sturdy for spilled beers and contra dancers. That night, the small, unpretentious place was nowhere near full — and Roberts still played it as though it was Madison Square Garden (or perhaps the Québec equivalent).
Even as he walked onstage, he already had the small audience revved up. He said a few things and picked up his guitar, and somehow we were all instantly on his side. There was no fighting us, no need to woo us. Everything Roberts said or did was celebrated with claps and yelps, and that was even before the music began.
Then it did. I don’t remember which song started everything off, just that it was accompanied by pulsating stage lights. The place went dark and then, in tune with the beat, flashed awake and revealed Roberts pouring everything he had into his mic. He’s not a self-conscious performer who tries to look cool as he sings, and that made him exhilarating to watch. With each new song, his neck would tighten, and he’d dramatically and probably involuntarily move with the music. On fast songs, he was practically running in place and during slow ones he was swaying a bit while crooning plaintively. He was putting himself out there completely, and it made him look both vulnerable and stunningly powerful.
Throughout the show, he chatted us up, and though I don’t remember what he said, I do remember how endearing it was. It wasn’t the kind of self-centered banter that huge music stars will sometimes throw out there, but almost a real conversation, of which the audience was definitely a part. People would shout out songs and suggestions, and he’d answer right back as if it was no big deal. He told us we were great dancers, and even though I knew it wasn’t exactly true in my case, I clapped in appreciation.
The show never petered out, but instead became more intense as it went along. Toward the end, he began walking out to the edge of the stage and playing right to his closest fans, the way ’60s rockers would for screaming teenaged girls. He whipped us into a frenzy, and all we wanted was more. I have to admit that even when I see my favorite musicians, I’m usually done with them after an hour or two. But I could have listened to Roberts well into the morning. He played his faux last song then came back on for an encore or three, and still I didn’t want it to end. When he finally exited the stage for the last time, I was dumbstruck and giddy, amazed that a rocker could make me feel that awake and excited about the world.
I felt so grateful that I had to wait around and tell him so, as did a dozen or so others. He was extremely gracious, not just with me but everyone, even those who were a bit sloshed and unsure on their feet. I thanked him for the show, and he thanked me for showing up, and it all felt real and honest and warm. I left the theater buzzing with validation and a sense of possibility.
Days later, I find myself wanting to reach back and touch that feeling again, that hope and excitement. It’s not that I want to be a rock star, but I do want to write as if the whole world is reading, even if there is only a handful of you out there. I’ll admit that a big part of me wants to make a difference in your day, to stop you in your tracks every once in a while. I want write something that matters to you, even if it only sticks in your mind for a couple of minutes. I may never be able to rock you the way Roberts could, but it feels good to keep on trying.
For more information on the Sam Roberts Band, visitwww.samrobertsband.com.