American Aquarium more than a pleasant surprise

by Ryan Snyder

I had originally planned to use thisspace to talk about the Leo Kottkeconcert at the Carolina Theatre lastFriday night, but then I realizedthat I’m only human. He, on theother hand, is not and I could nevertruly do justice to the splendor andserenity of his performance in words.It’s not often that an elderly man withonly an acoustic guitar could inducerepeated standing ovations out of acrowd youngand old, butthat’s what Isaw. So I looked more to the earthlyrealm for worthy acts to laud or chideand that’s when I found that HolyGhost Tent Revival ( was playing at the BlindTiger on Saturday.Now HGTR’s reputation as aterrific live act certainly precedes them.But in a most serendipitous turn of events,there was another band on the bill whoseperformance would demand an earnestsecond look.

That band was Reidsville’sown American Aquarium (, whose nameactually refers to a New England term forinebriate. You might also recognize theterm from the notorious Wilco lyric “I aman American Aquarium drinker/I assassindown the avenue.” Jeff Tweedy knows thevalue of a good stiff drink in easing thepain of bad relationships and you canbet that some of those same themes areechoed in this band’s music.Struck from a similar vein as Drive-ByTruckers and the Old 97s, their brand ofhard, twangy rock covers all of the groundthat you would expect from a band thatdrinks just as hard as they play. Guitaristand vocalist BJ Barham bemoaned everyno-good woman who ever did him wrongone at a time, while strutting around stagein the kind of zone that only an eveningspent with the Pabst Blue can bring you.

About the most impious of whom wasan angry little tune called “Queen of theScene.”“This one’s about girls who think thatthey’re just too damn good for you,”Barham stated.There seem to be a lot of ball-breakingexes in Barham’s songwriting past. Whatelse would inspire the (tentatively) titled“I Ain’t Goin’ to the Bar Tonight,” a songabout the specter of a nasty breakupkeeping you out of your favorite spot.Even the also-tentatively titled “WhoreSong (I Hope He Breaks Your Heart)”began with a rousing F-bomb to someequally-deserving shrew. Some ofthat may just be some spontaneouswordsmithing brought on by the trays ofwhiskey shots flowing from the audienceto the band, but I’d like to think there’ssome genuine feeling behind it.

 Based onthe entire band’s emphatic howling of thesong’s subtitle, I’d say that there is.“I’ve got a lot of songs about girls anddrinkin’,” Barham joked. “That’s it, that’sall I got.”Of course there’s more to the bandthan just songs about emotional dealingswith devil women and the resultinginebriation. They turned up the goodmojo on crowd favorite “California,” ahopeful nod toward the band’s future.They even ventured into Pink Floydianterritory with the atmospheric “LouisianaBeauty Queen.” Show closer “ClarkAvenue” was a heavy honky-tonk numberabout, well, drinking and women, butthis time with a much more positive spin.As far as there being any other themesprevalent over the evening,they did tease Bruce Hornsby’s“The Way It Is” over andover. Organist Zack Brownactually sold me on it at onepoint and I was actually a bitdisappointed that they nevergot to it. What can I say? I’ma fan.

There was also a greatband from Mississippicalled Come On, Go WithUs ( thatpreceded the boys fromReidsville, though they weren’ton the actual bill. I got thereright after 10 p.m., the slatedshow time, but they werealready eight songs into an11-song set. I suppose theearly bird special isn’t alwayson the menu. In any event, their rootscountrystyle paid a nice compliment toAmerican Aquarium’s harder, bourbonsoakedsound. Lest we not forget theshow’s headliner, I still feel compelled todedicate some time to Holy Ghost TentRevival. That may have to wait, however,because this time belongs to someoneelse.

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