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Sam Roberts Band hits the road with new concept album in tow

Sam Roberts band hits Capital Ballroom for a sold out show Friday
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Sam Roberts, centre, and his band play a sold-out show at the Capital Ballroom tonight. STRUT ENTERTAINMENT

SAM ROBERTS BAND

Where: Friday, 8 p.m.

When: Capital Ballroom, 858 Yates St.

Tickets: Sold out

Concept albums are a single, unified entity much greater than the sum of their parts. If you’re going to listen to something along the lines of Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Green Day’s American Idiot, a rewarding experience awaits if you do so in full.

But that changes when the band behind the music goes on tour and isn’t playing the album in full, yet wants to find a meaningful way to insert the new songs into a career-spanning set. That is where Sam Roberts finds himself as he tours behind his eighth album, The Adventures of Ben Blank.

“It has been an interesting challenge over the last month or so, for sure,” Roberts, 49, said with a laugh.

”We anticipated that being a problem. This record was meant to be digested, it was not meant to be compartmentalized. You put it on, listen to it start to finish, and go on a journey. Touring it is a different animal altogether. How do we take this growing well of songs and make a show out of all of it?”

Roberts has a deep catalogue of hits, which is where the problems began. When the Sam Roberts Band bandleader was prepping the tour setlists for his trek across North America, which includes a sold-out stop at the Capital Ballroom tonight, he ran into a logjam.

The six-time Juno Award winner is going to play Hard Road, Where Have All the Good People Gone?, Brother Down, Them Kids, and Bridge to Nowhere, without question. But after conferring with his longtime bandmates, many of whom have been with the Montreal native since his career began, they committed to playing six or seven new songs a night from The Adventures of Ben Blank.

“We’ve always dug in our heels when it comes to that kind of thing. A new record is not new for very long, so you only have one chance to hand deliver it from town to town, travelling salesman style, when it’s in its infancy. As a band, we have tried to make that our core philsophy. We’re going to play the songs. And it’s our responsibility not to turn away from that.”

Roberts and his band, which includes guitarist Dave Nugent, keyboardist Eric Fares, bassist James Hall, and drummer Josh Trager, played a handful of shows around the record’s release in October, and the singer-songwriter feels the high-danger spots were ironed out at that point.

What’s more, the savvy Roberts is never going to write new music that comes at the expense of his audience.

“Part of it goes back to the songwriting process, and the conceptual nature of the writing itself. Can the songs stand on their own, outside of the greater whole? That becomes a litmus test during the writing period. Do the songs still have legs when separated from their siblings? I tried to write them so if I had play one [new song] after Them Kids and before Bridge to Nowhere it would work.”

Above and beyond the topic of his setlist dilemma, touring remains a huge point of focus for the rocker, who has been a part of some estimable dates in the Greater Victoria area during the past 20 years. From his star-making debut in 2003 opening for the Tragically Hip at the at the Royal Theatre, to his outdoor set before 12,500 people at Rock the Shores, which was cut short due to lightning in 2012, he has enjoyed playing to Victoria audiences along the way.

There’s a newness to his current tours, however. A “level of unpredictability,” as Roberts describes it.

“All those years of being on tour sharpened that point, in a way. We know what we are looking for and we know how we want to feel. We remember having played in all these places so many times. And it’s hard not to gauge the present based on the past. You can’t help but feel the waves of memory coming over you.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com