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The Lowdown:

American Aquarium

B.J. Barham (vocals/guitar), Bill Corbin (bass) Ryan Johnson (lead guitar), Kevin McClain (drums), Whit Wright (pedal steel)

Based In:
Raleigh, North Carolina


Americana,, Southern rock, indie rock



Concert Date:
January 16, 2013

Opening Acts:
The Greaves


American Aquarium performs at the Beachland Tavern



February 6, 2013


American Aquarium: The Beachland Tavern, 1/16/13

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


American Aquarium brought their bitter, road-weary brand of to the Beachland Tavern on Jaunuary 16, 2013. (l-r) Ryan Johnson, Bill Corbin, Kevin McClain, B.J. Barham. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad / No Surf Music


Wednesday, January 16th may not officially have been a Drive-By Truckers tribute night at the Beachland Tavern, but with new local band the Greaves opening for Raleigh, North Carolina’s American Aquarium, it may as well have been. Both groups obviously share much in common with the hard-Southern-blend country rockers, and both seem to relish their place on the darker side of It was a night filled with songs about drinkin’, fuckin’ and shit fallin’ apart, actions which encompasses about 99% of the human experience, anyway.

The Greaves may be a relatively new band, but the group is filled with Cleveland music veterans. (l-r) Brian McCafferty, Rich Ellis, G.S. Harper, Jason Schafer. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad / No Surf Music.

This distinct Trucker vibe is no surprise from the Greaves, made up of two members of Cleveland’s legendary cowpunk pioneers California Speedbag, guitarist G.S. Harper and drummer Rich Ellis, as well as two confirmed former metalheads, bassist Brian McCafferty and guitarist Jason Schafer. Put them together and you’ve got pure hardcore honky tonk heaven. They even seem to have much of the same onstage vibe as DBT, with Harper handing off the lead to the particularly Mike Cooley reminiscent Schafer with the same respect offered by Patterson Hood towards his second lead. Their ten-song set was filled with lots of big, screaming guitars, throbbing bass, pounded drums and shouted lyrics, offset by an occasional trip to the softer side via power chord ballads, even slipping occasionally into a 90’s alternative rock meme. Still, my favorite segments came via Harper’s fiery guitar insanity, a definite cornerstone of the band’s sound. Set to record their first studio album in the near future, the band is definitely one to watch on the local scene.

While the other three members of the band may contribute the most to American Aquarium's harder rocking moments, the flourishes of pedal steel player Whit Wright add a level of sophistication to the mix, while Barham's often acerbic lyrics underpin their rebellious style. Photo by Jason D. ‘Diesel’ Hamad / No Surf Music.

The headliners, American Aquarium, continued the dark, hard-hitting country theme throughout their own set, a return to the Cleveland stage after a half-decade absence. If their DBT influences weren’t obvious enough right from note one, the fact that their latest album Burn. Flicker. Die. was produced by Jason Isbell certainly seals the deal. The five-piece fronted by guitarist B.J. Barham also features bassist Bill Corbin, lead guitarist Ryan Johnson, drummer Kevin McClain, and pedal steel courtesy of Whit Wright. With the paucity of even halfway-decent steel drivers left under the age of fifty, his performance was a particular highlight and his contributions often used to great effect.

To call the opener, “Abe Lincoln,” Cooleyesque would be an understatement. The song seems like it could have been written and performed by the Stroker Ace himself with its twangy guitars, driving beat and lightning-spit lyrics. There were plenty of other barnburners mixed into the set, such as “Saturday Nights” with its fuzzy guitar craziness. Barham risked a stageside riot by declaring that he didn’t have to tell Cleveland about shitty towns (but cleared his name and earned some cheers by calling LeBron James a “douche”) before breaking into the more-than-slightly-bitter anthem “Jacksonville,” which he describes as being “about the worst fucking place in the world.” The song featured spectral steel underneath a constant beat and light guitar strums and exploded into screaming pain at its conclusion. Perhaps the highlight of the show was an absolutely off the hook cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Bitch” that had pretty much everyone in the audience rocking like it was 1971.

Again, like any good hard rockers, the Aquarium boys knew how to temper these pulse-pounding moments with more toned-down selections, such as the depressant-laced “Ain’t Going to the Bar Tonight,” the ultra-forlorn and heart-torn breakup song “Lonely Ain’t Easy,” and a slow, soft number named for a state that always seems to produce heartbreak, “Tennessee.” These selections were topped off with a short acoustic solo grouping by Barham, who held down the stage while his bandmates topped off their supply of rocket fuel.

Barham promises the band's next trip to the North Coast won't come with as long a wait, and given the quality of their performance, a speedy return is definitely something we at No Surf look forward to. Photo by Jason D. ‘Diesel’ Hamad / No Surf Music

Lyrical highlights included “Casualties,” a song Barham describes as being “about sleeping on floors and not getting paid much… about doin’ what I love and disappointing my parents at the same time.” While deeply personal, it’s a tribute to almost any working band that isn’t blessed (or cursed) by the imprimatur of the hitmakers. The song starts out soft and depressing, then kicks it up into hard and despondent, much like a roadside romp with a $20 hooker. Another such song included the title track to their latest album, “Burn. Flicker. Die.” which also served as the closer for their set. Barham describes it as being “’bout my two favorite things in the world… redheaded women and alcohol,” but while this particular lyric does stand out within the song, it’s really a much more complex portrait of the type of battle-weary moonlight warriors that clearly make up the band’s roster.

Overall, the night featured two powerful performances, one by a new local prospect with more combined talent than many bands that have been on the scene for decades, and one by a relatively obscure but certainly noteworthy road band that’s been too long absent from the Rock & Roll city. For fans who enjoy their music attitude-heavy and disconsolate, it was a mighty fine way to spend a night.

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For a taste of American Aquarium live, buy Live in Raleigh on Amazon!


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