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On the cusp The Sam Roberts Band seems ready to turn serious buzz into international fame

Imagine living, eating, traveling, partying, laughing, fighting and working with the same five people month in and month out.

Simple marriages between two people are more likely to fail than to succeed. So how does one maintain a five-way platonic marriage?

"Very carefully," Sam Roberts said with a laugh.

Roberts should know. For the past five years, he and his band have been sharing the same breathing space on stages, in tour buses and ensconced in recording studios, all the while building what began as a serious buzz into what today sits on the cusp of an international explosion in popularity.

That explosion is the only sort Roberts -- who writes the band's songs and provides its onstage focal point, but still considers himself "just a member of the band" -- is interested in.

"Take a look at all the fantastic bands over the years who've had an explosion in popularity, only to then crumble from within," said Roberts, speaking down the line from Toronto, only hours before he and his bandmates hopped on a flight to Spain for a quick tour, immediately following which they'll arrive in Buffalo for next week's Thursday at the Square performance.

"If you don't feel like a band of brothers, if you don't have a shared passion for the music, and a real and true respect for each other, well, that's exactly what happenes. You fall apart. "

>Belief in the band

It's telling that such concerns are paramount in the mind of Sam Roberts as he prepares to make the leap from Canadian cult favorite with a penchant for killer power-pop, to big-league artist whose songwriting edges ever closer to a state of transcendence -- where labels will no longer so snugly fit him.

Many songwriters in Roberts' peer group have been content to grab the spotlight for themselves, allowing record company-picked producers to craft their records and studio musicians to fill in the surrounding musical information. Not our Sam. In fact, Roberts' belief in the band ethic makes him something of an anomaly in the present tense and identifies him as a rock musician of a different era's mind-set.

That mind-set is all over "Chemical City," the Sam Roberts Band's follow-up to its surprise hit debut, "We Were Born in a Flame," the record that made Roberts both rock star and reluctant heartthrob all over Canada -- and in certain music-savvy border towns like our own. One need only listen to the expansive "Mind Flood" to realize that Roberts and his blood brothers -- guitarist Dave Nugent, keyboardist Eric Fares, bassist James Hall, drummer Josh Trager -- have moved beyond the lovable garage-frenzy and power-pop of "Flame" staples such as "Don't Walk Away Eileen" and toward a searching, sprawling and frankly trippy approach that all but begs to be called psychedelic.

"Why would you apologize for saying that?" Roberts asked when I suggested a tune like "Mind Flood" is a bit of a head trip. "Psychedelia is a word that we really do love. To me, that's a huge compliment! I believe what you're saying is that our stuff can capture the imagination of the listener, which is what I always thought was, you know, a big part of the gig, when I was growing up and falling in love with albums."

>Album oriented

Ah, "albums."

So Roberts is not one to abandon either the concept of the album as long-playing statement of intent or the physical artifact of these albums themselves? Does it bother him that many among his rapidly expanding fan base might be cherry-picking tunes from the records he painstakingly assembles and sequences, thereby robbing them of the context he and the band have worked to create?

"In a word, yes, it does bother me," he said. "But at the same time, I embrace whatever's happening now, because I don't want to be the naysayer, the one insisting that everything was better in the past. I'd rather take the high road. I want people to come to our music however they're comfortable getting there.

"For me, though, I still completely believe in whole albums, and so does the rest of the band. That's the area we believe we're working in, and that's the area I really want to keep working in. No matter what people are saying, there is still an audience for the ideas that require a bit broader attention span."


WHO: Sam Roberts Band with guests Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

WHEN: 5 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Lafayette Square



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