Friday, January 3, 2014

American Aquarium brought the church of country music to last night's Knuckleheads crowd

Posted By on Fri, Jan 3, 2014 at 9:46 AM

click to enlarge ZACH BAUMAN
  • Zach Bauman
American Aquarium
Knuckleheads, Kansas City
Thursday, January 2, 2014

For the full slideshow, click here

See also: American Aquarium's B.J. Barham loves what he does - even if it sounds depressing


"We're gonna play a bunch of sad songs, then we're gonna play some loud songs about drinking, then we're gonna play some songs that'll make you want to call your ex-girlfriend," said American Aquarium's lead singer B.J. Barham as he took the stage at Knuckleheads last night. "But then we'll play some songs that'll make you forget about your ex-girlfriend... . Until maybe on your way home when you call her."

Barham wasn't joking. Well, he was, kind of, but his opening remarks proved to be a pretty straightforward layout of the evening: American Aquarium's set tipped the scale at just over two hours, and nearly every song the band played referenced a heart that was broken in one way or another.

Then again, that's the point of American Aquarium's music - particularly of the songs off American Aquarium's most recent full-length album, Burn.Flicker.Die. In an earlier interview that Barham did with The Pitch, he said tellingly: "Nobody wants to hear about country bands being happy. ... If you're listening to this genre of music, then you're  listening for sad-bastard songs."

click to enlarge ZACH BAUMAN
  • Zach Bauman

The crowd last night was definitely in it for the sad-bastard revelry. Knuckleheads was comfortably full with a generally blue-collar, plaid-flannel-wearing group either on date night (not really the right songs for that, but whatever) or just enjoying the music in the company of a steady line of drinks (more appropriate). Everyone seemed to know the lyrics - more than know them, actually. The audience would passionately intone along with Barham as though his hard-knock-life truisms were gospel. They might as well have been.

We damn near wasted all our twenties, chasin' down a dream/ Now we're all just breaking points and broken guitar strings, sang Barham lowly on "Casualties." The resonating hoots, hollers and amens from around the room gave the things a decidedly Presbyterian church-sermon feeling.

click to enlarge ZACH BAUMAN
  • Zach Bauman

Barham, from his stage-cum-pulpit, was an easily likable preacher. Sporting a cleanshaven face and looking younger than he has in years, Barham seemed to take his time with the audience. He cracked jokes, he explained songs, he sent his band away midset for a handful of solo acoustic numbers.

"These are not road-tested. They're new acoustic songs," Barham said as his band filtered off the stage. "No, don't clap yet, they might suck."

It's an odd thing, the way that Barham is so entirely relatable, so much a mascot for the weary regular man. He is a little rough around the edges - that will happen when your band has been playing around 300 shows a year for a half-decade - and he has one of those voices that sounds like tires being driven over broken glass. Even when he says he's happy, you get the feeling that it might not be entirely true. But happiness, Barham insisted last night, had finally come to him.

click to enlarge ZACH BAUMAN
  • Zach Bauman

"This new record, I'm writing happier songs because I'm finally in a happier fucking place... Guys, if you ever wonder whatever's missing in your life, find yourself a good woman," Barham advised the crowd (again, to massive affirmations with overwhelming and weighty looks of approval from the female faction). "I used to be a piece of shit, and then I met her, and she made be a slightly better piece of shit."

Barham's band rejoined him - a bassist, a guitarist, a drummer, and a lap steel player - and they launched into "PBR Promenade," a song that found everyone in the room holding up his or her respective beverage and cheering.

click to enlarge ZACH BAUMAN
  • Zach Bauman

"I think it's gonna be a good year," Barham said optimistically toward the end of the set. "I say that every year, but this time, I think it's the one, 2014."

He paused and laughed, never one to ignore his instinct for self-deprecation: "... .That is, until next year, when we're like, 'Fuck 2014.'"

click to enlarge ZACH BAUMAN
  • Zach Bauman

Leftovers: By the encore, there was a mega-fan who either had too much to drink or maybe just really felt the need to fill the empty space in front of the stage with his dancing. He was a tall dude and he had some full-body moves, and yeah, it was a little awkward, but good for him. Another couple even joined him on the floor, waltzing to "I Hope He Breaks Your Heart," which is probably unlucky on some level, right?

Set list: Apologies if things are missing here - the middle acoustic set was filled with new songs. 

St. Mary's
Abe Lincoln
Cape Fear River
Casualties
Katharine Bell
Ain't Going to the Bar Tonight
Saturday Nights
Tennessee 
Rattlesnake
[Acoustic Set]
Wichita Falls
PBR Promenade
Your Man
Random Ways
Jacksonville
Savannah Almost Killed Me
-
Harmless Sparks
I Hope He Breaks Your Heart
Burn. Flicker. Die. 

More photos here

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