After 2005’s rollicking debut, Slow Rewind, this four-piece (named after the openly gay WABC-NY/Good Morning America weatherman) went into a bit of hiding, leaving their label and working on new material. But the Champions are slowly coming back, having played at the South Street Seaport for the River-to-River Festival at the end of June (QRO photos), an upcoming mini-East Coast tour with Jealous Girlfriends in September, and a Tuesday, August 21st show at the new Luna Lounge (QRO venue review).
Sam Champion didn’t start off their set on a Bender, opening up with Rewind’s “TV Fever”. The slow, building number grew very well, drawing the crowd in with its power. But then the band launched into exclusively Heavenly material, with the exception of the fun, laid-back, wry “Company Dance” in the middle. For the most part, Slow Rewind had a definite Stephen Malkmus/Pavement ‘slacker rock’ vibe to it, especially singer/guitarist Noah Chernin’s vocals, but from their live performance, it seems that Heavenly Bender will be a little further from S.M., with more southern country in the mix, but also more keyboards.
The keyboards only got really prominent on two songs of the night, the back-to-back “Dead Moon” and “Heavenly Bender”. “Dead Moon” was clearly the biggest change, with the focus of this guitar-focused band shifting to the keys of guitarist Sean Sullivan, who also sang lead vocals (but not to worry – he still had his trademark hat…). Bender’s lead off title track had a seventies piano-pop vibe to it, making it a nice mix of Sam Champion’s seventies guitar-rock and Sullivan’s keyboards (sort of a “Dead Moon” meets “Company Dance”).
But as the eponymous opener to Bender (the same spot “Slow Rewind” had on Rewind), “Bender” might be a little less than representative of the whole album, considering the prominence that blues-y guitars played in the other new numbers. “Direct” was more southern-fried rock, while the final piece was a country-fied jam. “Like a Secret”, the first single, was more expansive, but still honest with its guitars, and “So Good To Me” went even more honest in its upbeat blues (and live, the maybe-should-be-the-first-single kind of excelled “Secret”). Champion also played one even newer, untitled piece, a slower number that could still use a bit of work, as it came off a bit boring, before getting bigger, well on in.
When Sam Champion leaked “Secret”, it got 6,500 downloads in a week, displaying the appetite that’s out there for Heavenly Bender, but other than releasing the “Be Mine Everyone” single in the U.K. this October (a song they curiously didn’t play in Brooklyn – why do the Brits get all the luck?), the waiting will continue. But judging from their show at Luna Lounge, “Secret” definitely seems to be a sign of things to come, and, more importantly, those things are good – and well worth the wait.