by Mitch Foster
The thing that often makes a band special is relating to their lyrics. BJ Barham from American Aquarium has this incredible knack for capturing all of the complex emotions we continually experience throughout our 20s and translates them into simple, hard-hitting and hauntingly realistic lyrics over some rockin’-ass alt-country music.
“I’ll be out of your way in a minute” says Whit, the pedal-steel guitar player from American Aquarium to Bartender Brian who was about to begin his set. Brian replies, “You can stay up here if you’d like.” Sure-as-shit Whit stayed up there and improvised Brian’s entire set with him! Brian performed without his fiancé, Alysa, belting out solid fan-favorites with his shredded vocals like “Only a Dream” and “Ashes.” (Free download: “Only A Dream”)
Last time I saw Bartender Brian, was the first time I cried at the Social. This time, there were even more tears. I witnessed multiple people wiping their eyes during Terri Binion’s set. I thought, “Damn it Brian, am I gonna cry every time I see a show you play?” I managed to fight back the waterworks while taking in Terri’s tear-jerking lyrics over an elegant acoustic guitar.
“Are you on MySpace?” my girlfriend asked. “Yes,” I replied, “It was the only place I could find Terri Binion’s music.” After listening to every single song on her MySpace, I now understand why there were such high emotions at the show during Terri’s beautiful, heartfelt set. She’s been part of the Orlando music scene since before 1997. It was a treat getting to see her for the first time. Here’s a shitty pic:
American Aquarium hasn't even recorded their new record yet, and I already have a favorite song on it. “The Losing Side of 25.” “I might never be a millionaire, and that’s all right with me. Cause I’ve done the things I wanted to. And said the things I needed to. And seen the things I wanted to see. There are different roads to happiness; I took a different path, I guess. Came out on that other side just fine.”
The six-piece entered the studio in Asheville, N.C., on June 8 to record their sixth studio album, Wolves, and treated Orlando to nearly every song off of the album while mixing in all the other shit we wanted to hear throughout the night.
I think we all locked in when American Aquarium broke into “Katherine Belle.” I looked around to catch a room-full of nodding heads and half-full beers raised towards the ceiling. Here’s a shitty pic:
“This song’s about shit not working out. If you like songs about shit not working out, we got six records available,” BJ jokes. But he’s fucking right. They are dead honest. BJ writes lyrics that are both poetic and to-the-point.“You’re just a two pack habit with a Southern accent. Yeah, I'm a pearl-snap poet with bad tattoos.” (“St Mary’s”) “Should have been a doctor or a lawyer, a policeman on patrol. Instead I’m a casualty of rock and roll.” (“Casualties”)There was quite a few people yelling requests and having loud conversations during AA’s set. I’m glad BJ wasn’t shy to address it. "I’m a 30-year-old man, and I’m not a jukebox." Amen. I swear I addressed this in my Fratellis review. BJ continues, “All right, there’s two rules. One: I am not a fuckin’ jukebox. Two: If you wanna talk real loud, go to the goddamn bar. Don’t be a dickhead and fuck it up for someone else.”
Last time I saw BJ Barham, he played a solo show at Will’s that bent me over in laughter. His hilarity stems from the fact that he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he is a damn-good story teller. Have I mentioned that I’m really digging Will’s Pub’s recent upgrades? The pool tables are gone, there are booths in their place against the wall, the opening between the venue room and the main entrance room is a lot larger, and they have a new sign above the stage with their logo on it. Oh, and ICYMI, they have full liquor now! A fan offered to buy BJ a shot, and when he was done laughing he told us, “She just asked me if I like whiskey ... I’ll take my whiskey how it comes in the bottle, sweetheart.”
American Aquarium continued with uplifting songs from their last album Burn. Flicker. Die., like “Lonely Ain’t Easy” and “Burn. Flicker. Die” before heading into the ultimate fan-favorite, “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart,” which kinda says it all in the title. I caught a bit of this singalong on the Shows I Go To Instagram:
Their drummer seems like a classically trained studio musician. Shit, the entire band seems like they could play just about anything that’s thrown at them. With BJ at the helm, American Aquarium produces a drunk-friendly, roller-coaster ride of a show that welcomes you to let loose and sing along. I enjoyed Lagunitas Lil’ Sumpin’ Sumpin’s all night. At 7.5 percent ABV, they can pack a punch. Luckily, I used a free taxi ride from Uber to get to the show and back. Have you heard of that shit? It’s a personal taxi service that’s free until June 20 in Orlando.
I’ve sat on my couch with American Aquarium vinyl spinning, drinking Gentleman Jack alone with my thoughts more nights than I can count. American Aquarium may not ever headline our House of Blues or the Beacham Theater but I believe, as Bao hinted in 2011, they’ll always have themselves some strong sutures in Orlando’s heart. Until next time, boys!
Mitch Foster is a casualty of rock and roll and runs an Orlando music blog, Shows I Go To, where he documents the shit out of his favorite aspects of the local music scene.