Best tunes of 2003: #29 Sam Roberts “Where have all the good people gone?”

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The sun is at its brightest just as it’s getting ready to dip behind the horizon line. There is a yellow film over everything and it is still damn hot and humid. Clothes are sticking to bodies and bodies are writhing and jumping and dancing chaotically, all tribal and ecstatic. This is how it is on the final day of a ten day music festival. You’d think the crowd tired but great performers know how to breathe life into the weary and of course, adrenaline does the rest.

It is Sunday, July 13, 2014, and there is a large crowd at the second largest stage at the Ottawa Blues festival. All age groups are well-represented. Men and women and all, and all from a myriad of different backgrounds. And everyone is into it. Of course, they are. The singer/songwriter on stage with his recently minted, full-fledged band are a good, hard-working group, truly representative of his Canadian identity and he has a cross-genre appeal.

Sam Roberts is six songs deep into his set, decked out in black denim jeans and a black denim jacket, under which you can just catch a glimpse of the black Clash t-shirt. He is sinewy and muscular, a short man with a powerful exuberance, his short brown hair and rough and tumble beard are soaked in sweat. His face is red and he is giving it his all.

“Oh the Milky Way has gone a little sour
The leaves dried and the flower fell away
I’ve been sitting, I’ve been waiting for a sign
Inhuman beings taking up all of my time”

The song is “Where have all the good people gone”. It was originally recorded for his now legendary debut EP, “The inhuman condition”, and then, re-recorded for his debut album, 2003’s “We were born in a flame”. It was a huge hit for the Montreal-born musician, the 12th most played song on Canadian rock radio between the mid-90s and the mid-10s. So everyone here knows the song and yes, they are singing along, nay, yelling and screaming along with Sam, especially every time he gets to the lines: “Montreal to Hong Kong – Where have all the good people gone?”

The crowd is one, no matter the differences between us, we are united with Sam against the “not” good people. And I’m right there with them, jumping up and down, screaming together with a bunch of quebecois that I had never met before and will likely never see again. The funky bass and drums, the dirty and groovy guitars, and Sam encouraging us all to join in the chants. And the crowd responds, deafening in its approval and belonging.

And for just a brief moment, I stop, look around in amazement, and think that good old Sam might have just joined The Tragically Hip as one of Canada’s favourite live acts. Then, I take another gulp of draft beer from my plastic cup and dive back into moment.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

Live music galleries

Live music galleries: Sam Roberts Band [2014]

(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts page.)

Sam Roberts of The Sam Roberts Band

The Sam Roberts Band
When: July 13th, 2014
Where: Claridge Homes stage, Ottawa Bluesfest, Lansdowne Park, Ottawa
Context: Just a few days ago, I posted about an incredible early single by a singer/songwriter that since the time of its release has become something of a Canadian institution. Montreal-based, Sam Roberts started things off as a solo artist but these days leads a pretty solid rock band that releases music that is pretty universal in terms of fan base, at least here in Canada. I feel like I’ve seen him perform live a bunch a times but in reality it was only twice, at least twice in full, though I’ve had a plethora of opportunities. The first of these opportunities was in 2009, the first year I attended Ottawa’s Bluesfest, and his set overlapped with that of Okkervil River and so only caught a few tunes from it. The first full set I attended was five years later at the same festival and he had just released his fifth album (the second as a band) called “Lo-fantasy”. The crowd was large and pumped and when the energy is that great, you’re bound to have a blast. I spent the whole time jumping up and down, fist pumping in the air, screaming along to lyrics of songs* I’d heard many times over on the radio with people I’d never before met and will likely never do again. Good times indeed.
Point of reference song: We’re all in this together

The Sam Roberts Band!
Eric Fares and Dave Nugent of the Sam Roberts Band
Sam Roberts and James Hall of the Sam Roberts Band
(The sax player)
Dave Nugent
Eric Fares, Dave Nugent, and a sax player
Sam Roberts

*With the magic of the internet, I was able to go back to rewatch the same concert recently on YouTube and sang (not screamed) along with it all over again.


Best tunes of 2002: #6 Sam Roberts “Don’t walk away, Eileen”

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Do you have a song from your youth that you detest? And I’m not thinking because it was a bad tune or anything but that its sole offence was that it used your name in its title or lyrics and became fodder for use in teasing by your peers.

Yeah? Me too.

Mine came by way of El Debarge’s “Who’s Johnny?” that featured prominently in the 80s film “Short circuit”, another source of teasing (“Johnny five is alive!” Kids are so weird). I also got a lot of “Johnny B. Goode”, which I minded quite a bit less, because, well, that song rocks. And then, in university, I was introduced to a song by Madder Rose called “Beautiful John” that… okay… nobody really used that one to tease me…

Then, there’s the case of a friend of my wife’s and mine who had to grow up with people singing words to a certain hit Dexy’s Midnight Runners song, to the point that she couldn’t abide the tune. We were laughing about this very subject one night over dinner and the physical reaction she had at the mere mention of “Come on, Eileen” was hilarious to behold. But when I asked if she felt the same way about Sam Roberts’ hit tune “Don’t walk away Eileen”, her response was: “No! I love that song!” And she immediately started singing the song and drumming her hands on the table.

I don’t disagree with our friend Eileen’s assessment of the song at all. It was released as the second single off Sam Roberts’ debut EP, “The inhuman condition”, and is the second song from it to feature on this very list. Not bad at all for a release that only has six songs in total and one whose artist wondered whether the EP was a good idea for his first foray into music. It is basically a reinterpretation of half the demo tracks he put together to generate industry interest and well, the EP generated a huge buzz on Canadian radio. Then, a bunch of these tracks also appeared on Roberts’ debut long player, “We were born in a flame”, that was released the following year after he signed to Sony Music.

“Don’t walk away Eileen” is a thorough banging and crashing away at drums and guitars, a general racket, really, and Roberts seems less concerned about carrying a tune than emoting the feeling of anger and passion. It is punk without the trappings of being punk. It is a fun tune that many can identify with, a universal kick at a troubled or troubling love interest, a song to scream along with at the top of your lungs, whether in your car, in your room, in a bar drinking with friends, or in the middle of a crowd at a concert.

Yeah, it’s fun. I’m not quite sure it mitigates all those years of “Come on, Eileen” for our friend though.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.