Sam Champion 2/29/2005: Mercury Lounge, New York, NY

On the heels of a few rainy days in the Big Apple, winter-like weather pushed fans of the indie act Sam Champion inside the Mercury Lounge early on Tuesday night. It was one of the last times like this in March before spring made its official arrival. Clusters of guys and girls were still layered in heavy wool coats and corduroy jackets to bare the crisp, cold air.

The wind roared as small groups of friends and couples came indoors and immediately rid themselves of their excess clothes. Members of the four-piece rock outfit from New York – Noah, Jack, Sean, and Ryan – were already inside and mingling among the crowd near the bar. At 9 p.m. the guys finished up a few beers and moved from a chat with friends to set up their equipment in the Music Room.

Listeners are fortunate each time they hear a band they love in a quaint hangout where they don’t have to stand on their tiptoes just to see the lead singer. That’s exactly how the show went down at the Mercury. Fans observed the floppy-haired frontman, Noah Chernin, from every corner.

The sound system is quite phenomenal for such a small venue. Past the long bar, the club opens into an intimate performance space. It’s a sparse, understated room with brick walls and just enough seating for those who don’t wish to stand the whole night. It’s also no wonder artists who might easily fill venues six or seven times larger return to this space year after year to perform. Even new acts like Sam Champion find themselves on this same stage every couple of months.

“It’s good to be back home,” the lanky lead singer told the audience after the group’s first song, a new tune called “Mexican Rags.” The second number, the feisty strut of “Company Dance,” kicked the energy level up a notch and got the party started.

The band showed they indeed deserve comparisons to stellar acts like Neil Young & Crazy Horse. They combined previews of their debut album, Slow Rewind, awaiting a July release on Razor & Tie, with a few new songs thrown into the forty-five minute set.

One can’t help but get caught up in the Sam Champion mix of bleeding country with a rock twist. The band’s dynamic sound builds from a rhythm section, which swings with a laid-back slam. The guitars rattle and twang while Chernin’s earnest vocals insinuate themselves deep inside the hardest of hearts.

Sam Champion recently performed at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, but all of the guys agree that nothing beats playing live in New York City. While some may consider NY audiences to consist of “shoegazers,” drummer Ryan Thornton says the often stoic crowd he sees is actually listening to the words and paying careful attention to the performance. “People are really interested here. In other towns, people are rowdy and have a lot of energy – they’re trying to talk about the basketball game over your music. I guess I’d rather have people just be quiet and listen.”


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