For the most part, I only caught brief glimpses of Justin Roberts at Kindiefest this year. When I did see him there, it seemed like he always had a crowd around him. After many patient years diligently practicing his craft, Roberts seems poised to finally make the leap to the (relative) mainstream awareness (hello, New York Times!, hello, other magazines who were around last weekend!) enjoyed by folks like Dan Zanes, Laurie Berkner, and Ralph Covert. To those of us in the industry who have been thinking of Roberts as being at that level for a while now, it's just the rest of the world catching up.
Still, I think even the most devoted and dialed-in observer of the scene couldn't help but be a little bit bowled over by the Roberts' showcase-concluding set Saturday night. I chose to title this post "... and the Not Ready For Naptime Players" deliberately. Sure, Roberts' popularity starts off with his sharp songwriting skills, but there's no doubt that the full 5-piece NR4NP is an essential part of Roberts' success, both on record and live. Liam Davis brings a keen producer's ear to Roberts' albums and is only slightly less energetic on stage than Gerald Dowd is on drums. Jacqueline Schimmel on bass and Dave Winer on trumpet, laptop, and court jester play no less important roles. They're loose (Winer's "Little Dave" riff on "Kidniefest" -- spelling intentional -- nearly brought the show to a comedic halt) but when they play, they are tight.
As I noted before, Roberts and his band were so great, at least a couple other performing artists said it inspired them to improve their own performances. Audience members shed tears. The brief 23-minute set was like watching a Super Bowl halftime show except the band wasn't dialing it in and the new stuff was every bit as good as the classics.
Yeah, the new stuff is great, too. The two tracks they performed from the Jungle Gym -- "Trick or Treat" and "New Haircut" (were there more? "Gym Class Parachute," maybe?) -- weren't quite as orchestrated as on record (I wanted somebody to cue the flutes -- a reference which will be clearer once everyone hears the disk). But the band already sounded very polished on the new tracks (and Roberts already had hand/arm motions worked out for audience participation). As for "Trick or Treat" (excerpted below with Roberts' permission), which is a Halloween song that the New Pornographers would be proud to include in their collection, I had a conversation with a radio person afterwards who said, "I don't think I can wait that long to play that on the air." We decided Labor Day would be OK. That's going to be a huge song in concert for Roberts in the fall.
In other words, win.
Justin Roberts - "Trick or Treat" (Excerpt from Kindiefest 2010) [YouTube]
More pictures after the jump.