Edmonton Journal


Roberts embarks on first tour since pandemic, with stop at Jubilee Auditorium on Friday

- BRENDAN KELLY bkelly@postmedia.com twitter.com/brendansho­wbiz

Sam Roberts is just such an N.D.G. dude.

As an occasional beer league hockey player, he talks of the change in ownership at the Montreal hockey shop, Sport au Gus. Then there's the obligatory Habs chatter, with Roberts waxing eloquent about Brendan Gallagher's “nobility” and how he's an inspiratio­nal force for the team.

We're sitting at Café de Mercanti, the hippest java joint in the Montreal neighbourh­ood of Notre-Dame-de- Grâce (N.D.G.), and this longtime resident of the Deeg — who might just be the borough's new poster boy now that Jay Baruchel has decamped for Toronto — is talking about how much he likes living in the 'hood that no one really understand­s unless they live there.

Roberts, one of Canada's bestknown rockers, is set to embark on his first tour since the pandemic, with the Sam Roberts Band stopping to play at Edmonton's Jubilee Auditorium on Friday.

“I've seen it through the lens of a parent for the entire time I've lived here,” says Roberts, who is the father of two teenage daughters and a 12-year-old son. “It's a great place to raise a family. It really has the best of both worlds. It has that neighbourh­ood feel that I loved growing up on the West Island, but there's that contact with the city that I think is really important for kids. I mean, it's great as an adult, too. Like, I can go downtown and feel that kind of energy again, but then come back to the safety of your street here in N.D.G. I remember growing up in Pointe-Claire, all my friends in N.D.G., they just seemed so worldly. They seemed to know so much about the streets.

“It's changed a lot. I went to Loyola (High School) and back then there were streets in N.D.G. you didn't walk down. You were told to not venture too far that way or to that park at night.”

As a fellow N.D.G.er, I mention there is still a certain toughness here.

“There's still a grit at heart here,” Roberts says. “My favourite local pub, Honey Martin ... it's the kind of bar I like to hang out in. It's a local N.D.G. bar.”

Indeed. As in, it's not a chi-chi hipster Plateau bar, and I mean that absolutely as a compliment.

Roberts did do his time in the Plateau in the 1990s when he was starting out, just one of many alt-rockers trying to make it. He had a couple of bands that never really went anywhere. But at least the living was cheap, as opposed to today. That scene eventually produced bands that made it globally from the Dears to Arcade Fire.

You didn't even consider the possibilit­y of success here before those bands making it, Roberts says.

“I'm not even joking — ( getting a mention in) the Rant Line (a hilarious column in the Montreal Mirror where people phoned in often-drunken rants) was the pinnacle of success at the time,” he says. “Let alone get your face on the cover of the Mirror or the Hour. That to me was extraterre­strial measures of success.”

He tells a funny story about going to L.A. back then. He bought a 1969 Oldsmobile Delta 88 for $250 (the seller gave him a deal because he thought Roberts had good energy), but it cost him a fortune in gas driving around L.A. and the brakes would heat up so much that he'd go sailing through red lights.

His band at the time was Northstar, and they had a mini-album. The trouble was the cover art was so ugly.

“It was our Spinal Tap Smell the Glove moment,” Roberts says.

He and his manager didn't have a cellphone, so they got a pager and every time it went off, they had to hike a mile up the canyon to the closest phone booth to call the record company back. He says they met maybe three people in California in three months.

Roberts may not have made the Rant Line, but a few years later he had the kind of success that was unimaginab­le when he was scraping by in the Plateau. His first album, 2003's We Were Born in a Flame, included the hits Brother Down, Don't Walk Away Eileen and Where Have All the Good People Gone?, and went double platinum in Canada. The album won two Juno Awards and he was named artist of the year at the Junos.

Last year was the 20th anniversar­y of the release of We Were Born in a Flame, and there's a sense that anniversar­y informs Roberts's latest album, The Adventures of Ben Blank, which came out in the fall. It's a concept album based on a what-if notion — What if it was the fictional guy Ben Blank releasing music, not Sam Roberts?

It's like Roberts dreaming of escaping his history. That desire comes partly from the fact the first album was by far his biggest commercial success.

“I think it's natural that there's a growing frustratio­n that newer things that you make ... when they don't find the same kind of foothold in people's lives, it's always frustratin­g,” Roberts says. “Does it mean you resent the old stuff? I don't think that's how I'd say it. I do think there's a struggle every band — our own included — goes through, to convince people that what you're saying right now is as valuable to them.”

Roberts is also a proficient violinist and demonstrat­es his violin abilities while visiting students in a video accompanyi­ng this story online in the Arts section at edmontonjo­urnal.com

 ?? JOHN MAHONEY ?? Sam Roberts, second from left, brings his band — James Hall on bass, guitarist Dave Nugent, drummer Josh Trager and keyboard player Eric Fares — to the Jube Friday.
JOHN MAHONEY Sam Roberts, second from left, brings his band — James Hall on bass, guitarist Dave Nugent, drummer Josh Trager and keyboard player Eric Fares — to the Jube Friday.

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