American Aquarium, Red Collar, Holy Ghost Tent Revival
The Pour House, Raleigh
Saturday, April 25
Last Saturday night, Raleigh road warriors American Aquarium showcased Dances for the Lonely, its latest batch of tunes inspired by frontman BJ Barham’s cross-country adventures with his band—and, of course, his women. Heavy on the new stuff, Barham spent the first half of the 80 minute set relating those out-of-town tales to the local crowd (which he—err, affectionately—referred to as “motherfuckers”) by describing the New Orleans enchantress who’s the subject of “Louisiana Beauty Queen,” discussing the “Queen of the Scene” (“a girl who thought she was too fucking cool for everyone”) or calling out the high school friend whose white ride is mentioned in “PBR Promenade.” Introducing the soaring album opener “Katherine Belle,” Barham explained, “If you’ve ever been to Columbia, South Carolina, you know there’s not anything there except for beer and women, and I happen to enjoy both.” In one of the highlights of the night, Caitlin Cary made her way from behind the bar to the stage to lend her pipes to the song, as she does on the album. Hit the jump for the video and more words on American Aquarium and the rest of the bill.
Absent its planned horn section but still in full seven-piece form, American Aquarium dipped into its back catalog for the latter portion of its set. Though conspicuously absent of The Bible and The Bottle’s prominent fiddle lines, Barham pined for “California”—one of that album’s best—over a lush bed of piano, B3 and pedal steel. Throughout the night, Barham called on his band for solos, and his boys responded with instrumental breaks that cooked, Ryan Johnson’s lead guitar capable of simmering and scorching. The septet reached back to its 2006 debut for “Anne Marie,” Barham dedicating it to a couple faithful fans: It’d be impossible to tour as much as American Aquarium has without developing solid crowd rapport, and these guys have it in spades. Proving as much, they closed the set with “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart”—a fan favorite formerly known as “The Whore Song” but recently rechristened for Dances for the Lonely. Many sang along on the floor—Barham let them belt out the final verse themselves—and Red Collar’s Mike Jackson and Beth Kutchma and Holy Ghost Tent Revival’s Patrick Leslie hopped on stage to join in on the chorus:
It was almost anti-climatic when Barham returned solo with “Savior” for an encore before calling the band back up and finishing with “Clark Ave.,” its now standard closer. But by then, American Aquarium had proven its point: As perhaps the hardest touring band in the Triangle, its honed an airtight performance that's still dependent on the give-and-take with its audience, whether that's few dozen barroom girls in Wichita who inspire these stories or the few hundred in Raleigh who sing them.
Setting the bar high from the start was Greensboro’s rambunctious Holy Ghost Tent Revival, who set the first few rows—including a few students from Enloe High who skipped their prom—ablaze in a screaming, bouncing dance frenzy. The throwback thrashers brought their blend of New Orleans swing and Appalachian twang for 75 minutes, covering both The Beatles (“Don’t Let Me Down”) and Gogol Bordello (“Start Wearing Purple”) and previewing tracks from their forthcoming Family EP. The crowd ate up So Long I Screamed’s choice cuts—“Getting Over Your Love” and “Walking Over Your Grave” were particular favorites—and gladly played along with the new ones, not having to be asked twice to scream out “Alcohol” through the titular song’s chorus. The disc is expected this summer, but you can sneak a peek at “Alcohol” below. Let’s hope the nearly indistinguishable contributions of Mike O’Malley—Holy Ghost’s still recent addition on keys, after the loss of trumpeter Josh Lovings—are stronger on record than they are here.
Red Collar followed, steamrolling through an hour-long set which I didn’t video at all. Seems some dude thought he should yell every lyric at the top of his lungs. Seems that dude was me (along with several others up front). Seriously, best live band in the Triangle right now. Get out there and see for yourself next Saturday at the 506. For you homebodies, there are—as usual—many more videos over on Scan’s YouTube channel.