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Montreal band looks to strike chord with Pittsburgh

| Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sam Roberts is a diehard follower of the Montreal Canadiens, but extends his congratulations to Penguins fans on the team's Stanley Cup victory. The Montreal native just hopes there's some energy left over in Pittsburgh for a very good rock 'n' roll band performing Friday at the 12th annual WYEP Summer Music Festival.

"We'll take all comers in the spirit of the Stanley Cup," Roberts says. "I hope the win still carries forward, and people will be in the mood to celebrate."

OK, it won't be quite like watching Max Talbot befuddle Detroit goalie Chris Osgood, or Marc-Andre Fleury's breathtaking save as time ran out in Game 7. However, the Sam Roberts Band brings no small amount of verve and energy on its new album, "Love at the End of the World." From the '50s guitar flair of the title track to the haunting "Lions of the Kalahari," Roberts and his bandmates seem intent on exploring different aspects of rock music.

There do seem to be hints of Roberts' influences on the record. "Oh Maria" sounds like Marshall Crenshaw by way of Bruce Springsteen, and "Lions of the Kalahari" has the tone of a Brian Eno-Peter Gabriel collaboration.

But similarities to other artists are only incidental.

"All of this pushing and pulling of the music in different directions has to come from a place that you're not necessarily consciously focused on why you're doing it, where it's coming from," Roberts says, "why your musical instincts are taking you in that direction at that given time. I think all of our records have been like that, in some way."

The difference with "Love at the End of the World" stems from where it was recorded. For previous albums, Roberts and his bandmates -- guitarist Dave Nugent, keyboard player Eric Fares, bassist James Hall and drummer Josh Trager -- traveled to distant locales to avoid the inherent distractions of recording at home in Montreal. Notably, the band recorded "Chemical City" at an old church in Byron Bay, Australia.

The birth of Roberts' first child forced the group to stay home to record the current release.

"It ended up becoming a catalyst, creatively, because of that need to re-evaluate the familiar," he says. "You look at it from a different perspective. That's a challenge in and of itself, but I think it was one of the main ingredients in the overall outcome of the record."

While the band previously left home to make albums, Roberts insists Montreal's a remarkable place to be a musician, even though the city's music scene often is overshadowed by those of its Canadian peers in Toronto and Vancouver.

"In Montreal, if you tell people you're a musician, they don't think, 'Oh, another musician,'" Roberts says. "You're just kind of allowed to do it. It doesn't mean you're going to be successful with it at all. But as a choice, it's respected, and that goes a long way to keeping the fires burning when you face those tough times, when things aren't working out."

Being from Montreal hasn't limited Roberts. This year, his band won JUNO Awards (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for artist and rock album of the year. All that's left is to make inroads stateside. Despite some false starts in the United States, things feel different with "Love at the End of the World."

"Maybe this record has finally struck a chord with people," Roberts says, noting the album's increased airplay. "Maybe it's finally starting to open those doors, one by one. I think it's up to us now, in the live shows, to come down there and cement that relationship, to maintain a presence and basically not take no for an answer."

Additional Information:

12th annual WYEP Summer Music Festival

Featuring: The Sam Roberts Band, Dar Willaims, the Duhks, Meeting of Important People

When: 6 p.m. Friday

Admission: Free

Where: Schenley Plaza, Oakland

Details: 412-381-9131 or

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