The pair was just the top half of a four-band line-up on Friday, February 15th, coming after XYZ Affair and Salt & Samovar. Both Sam and Rug brought the sixties/seventies roots of rock ‘n’ roll into today’s indie-music world.
Drug Rug started off on the sunnier side of things with the laid-back rock of “Day I Die”, followed by another college-smart neo-sixties song from the band’s self-titled debut record. But their set got dirtier and grittier as it went on, with singer/guitarist/frontwoman Sarah Cronin just getting more and more Joplin-esque. There was some road-rock classic fun, a version of “Wintertime” far more grinding than on Drug Rug, and some roots-rock written by the band’s friends in Viva Viva. The only real note of discord was a choral pseudo-hymn, out of place on the night, but “For the Rest of Your Life” washed that away. The opener on Drug Rug closed out the Cambridge, Mass.’s act’s set, with a slow, down-home, blues-y cry.
Drug Rug playing “For the Rest of Your Life” live @ Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY:
If you had to separate the two, Drug Rug was a little bit country, Sam Champion, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Champion has grown from singer/guitarist Noah Chermin’s Stephen Malkmus/David Berman singer/songwriter vibe on 2005’s debut, Slow Rewind, embracing a fuller rock sound on the upcoming Heavenly Bender (best news of the night: the much-delayed record, finished nine months ago, finally has a label and is coming into the world this summer). However, this had to have been a special night for Chermin (QRO interview), to be headlining Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review), considering he works for the Bowery Presents circle of venues.
If the title to opener “Your Party Was Yesterday” was a little ironic, the irony was unintentional; more applicable was it’s rocking chorus, “It’s a down-home symphony…” The group was anything but so-so with the following “So Direct” and “So Good To Me”, two more great Bender pieces, but the band delivered so nice a surprise with their cover of Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” (the hit single from the famed eighties teen-flick, Fast Times at Richmond High). The pressing pop power of “Like A Secret” drove the crowd into Champion’s only Rewind number, “Company Dance”. Luckily, that might be the best piece on Rewind, a winking-wise good time, followed by the epic rock ‘n’ roll of “Jealousy”.
Sam Champion playing “Jealousy” live @ Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY:
Like Drug Rug, Sam Champion borrowed from friends, playing a song written by a buddy named ‘Luke’, though it didn’t quite fit with the rest of the set. But also like their bill-mates, Champion closed out with some dirt-grit country-blues-rock on “Doubt” and U.K. single “Be Mine Everyone”. While they never got to guitarist/keyboardist Sean Sullivan’s wonderful “Dead Moon”, the group did return for one last number, and called up Michael Sullivan, the ‘fifth Champion’, straight out of the crowd and up onto the stage, to rock out with Tom Petty’s classic first single, “Breakdown”.
Sam Champion playing Tom Petty's “Breakdown” live @ Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY:
The whole night had a fun, ‘party with friends’ atmosphere, like with XYZ Affair eliciting joshing cheers when they told the audience they were currently unemployed. 2008 in the Big Apple has started kind of slow, concert-wise, but many of the tours that have been designed to include stops at South-by-Southwest in Austin in early March are just now kicking into gear, and this was a great way to rev into it. Plus, not a bad start to a three-day weekend.