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Devoted few help Roberts feel at home

That the United States has yet to offer Sam Roberts the immense popularity he's found in Canada is irrelevant to the singer-songwriter. The Montreal native is accustomed to playing sold-out venues, so his late-night performance Saturday to a half-full T.T. the Bear's Place was a change of pace. Fortunately his large-scale tendencies translate to the small stage.

Standing on tiptoe in black Vans, squinting and shaking his shaggy mane, Roberts played a 90-minute set that relied heavily on material from recent release ``Chemical City." His music is Whiskeytown meets the Who , and his voice is undeniably similar to Jeff Tweedy 's. He was backed by band members Josh Trager , Eric Fares , James Hall , and Dave Nugent .

Roberts alternately bounced around the stage and pumped his fist, then leaned urgently into the microphone as though it might disappear. The small-but-devoted audience screamed the chorus to ``Brother Down," Roberts's first single, and chanted his name between songs. With sweat dripping from his curls during the encore, Roberts assured the audience ``I got time," as he sang ``Uprising Down Under."

The show was the last on tour with the Damnwells and Slow Runner . Playing prior to Roberts's set, the Damnwells were exceedingly guitar-heavy but lacking in originality. Slow Runner, which shined earlier in the evening with songs from its debut album ``No Disassemble," would have best filled the spot.

Slow Runner's talent for infusing rock with electronic elements made for an accomplished performance, but the early set time made for a sparse crowd. Seated center stage, lead singer Michael Flynn played two keyboards simultaneously and oozed lyrics to ``Break Your Mama's Back" in falsetto, backed by Danny Cassady , Dave Middleton , and Josh Kaler .

The show was a semi-homecoming for the foursome, who met at Berklee College of Music and now reside in Charleston, S.C. They played three songs slated for their sophomore album, set for release next year, and closed with vigor on ``You're in Luck."

``The last time we played at T.T.'s was on a Tuesday night for all of our friends," Flynn said. ``Now you strangers are here, which is a good thing."

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