by: Thomas D. Mooney
“Treat me like a Saturday night.”
It’s a Tuesday night. It’s like a Saturday night. The crowd is going to be feeling Sunday hangovers on Wednesday morning. The six members of American Aquarium are scattered around The Blue Light and it’s just a little past 10pm.
Lead vocalist BJ Barham is jumping on stage and throwing the strap of his red acoustic guitar on. A few AAers are already on stage doing the same. They’re soon joined by the remaining and a few moments later, they’re going into “Wolves.”
They’re three songs in–“Wolves,” “Southern Sadness,” and “Casualties”–before Barham addresses the crowd for the first time. There’s an eruption as he says, “Hello Lubbock.” It echoes out the door. Seemingly every individual in the bar is squeezed onto the old wooden dance floor that’s directly in front of the stage. There’s a few others ordering drinks and others smoking cigarettes out front, but for the most part, everyone is focused on what’s happening on stage.
For the hour and a half of Barham company on stage, there’s not much socializing and conversing happening. It’s a sing-a-longs and listening hour. Much like many other nights, American Aquarium is on point tonight–but there’s an edge to their play and fire in their eyes that you only catch in glimpses. Tonight is one of those nights where that fierce blaze is extended from the onset of the show–it was in the first strum of guitar and stayed until Barham’s “Good night, Lubbock. You’ve been great.”
It’s no secret that American Aquarium is at the front of the line in Americana music. They’re hit their stride in both their performance and songwriting. We and others have said it hundreds of times the past couple of years. But Tuesday, there was something incredibly special happening on stage.
Barham went into punk-rock mode multiple times with shouting broken vocal emphasis. The hard strum and Springsteen stomp was in full effect. The glare Barham gives from in front of the microphone can set the ton for not just a line or song, but for an entire night. It’s a snarl and piercing eyes.
Everyone else followed suit. Guitarists Ryan Johnson and Colin Dimeo exchanged laughing looks as they through out licks, lines, and solos. It’s like a heavyweight fight between them. Blow for blow. It’s like Legolas and Gimli from Lord of The Rings keeping a kill count. After songs, Dimeo wipes the neck of his guitar. Johnson wipes his brow.
And it wasn’t just the band. The crowd rarely waned into restlessness–sure there’s that one photograph of the front row all looking at their cell phones, but that wasn’t the norm for the night. They bought into the “treat me like a Saturday night” mentality–which doesn’t mean just getting shit-faced and reeling. It was the spirit of the night.
For a band who never mails it in, there was just something else that took it to a next level. You can’t even pinpoint an overlying obvious reason either. Every description and detail would sound like any other American Aquarium show. But for whatever reason, Tuesday was a perfect show from a typically perfect band.