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To faithful, Sam Roberts is a rock god

POP MUSIC REVIEW

June 02, 2006|Ann Powers | Times Staff Writer

Sam Roberts held his guitar aloft, leaning out beyond the lip of the Troubadour's stage, as fans cheered and pumped their fists late into his band's Wednesday night set. Never mind that the club wasn't full and some less enraptured listeners were wandering out during the encore. Roberts treated this midweek show like a headlining slot at a rock festival. The hundred-plus people at his feet were his throng, and he sweated for them, moaned and crooned, gave the night his all.

Sam Roberts is a rocker, earnest and proud. He writes body-shaking, riff-driven songs with room for lengthy jams and lyrics about how music matters, life can get hard and girls enlighten him and mess up his head. In Canada, the 31-year-old Montreal native tops the charts and wins awards. Here, he's found neither the mass audience for which his ambition calls nor the love of hipsters, who seem unlikely to buy his unfussy, seemingly absolute passion for big chords and unfettered sentiment.

Then again, Roberts' luck could turn. His Wednesday set focused on songs from the second Sam Roberts Band album, "Chemical City," and in concert these would-be anthems sounded catchier and more multidimensional than a casual listen to the record portends. Sometimes the lyrics gleefully dove into cliche -- at one point, he sang of his soul, his arms outstretched in a Jesus pose -- but Roberts takes on these tired images so cheerfully that he somehow makes them bearable again.

Roberts' songs were meant for singing along; he's an exceptionally dynamic performer, able to rouse a crowd without ever snickering or acting sheepish. In this age of ironic pop idols and studied bohemians, it's hard to say whether Roberts will find his American multitude, or just keep playing to the lucky few.

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