The Music Meme: Day 14

Day 14: A song you like hearing live

"Casualties" by American Aquarium

This is a pretty good-sized category on its own, but it does have one limiting factor: to know I like hearing it live, I must have heard it live already. This eliminates the work of many artists I've never seen, despite my fondness for them (XTC, Steely Dan, the Who, Stevie Wonder, the Kinks, etc.) and others whom nobody can see anymore (Nick Drake, Nirvana, Prince, Frank Zappa, etc.)

Luckily, I have seen many of my favorites live, sometimes repeatedly, and therefore have some idea of which songs work for this category. One thing I have to note is that not all performers are better live--the Police would be one act who disappointed me in concert--but there are some performers whose live shows elevate their material considerably. A short but incomplete list of those whose live shows made me like them better would include:

Bruce Springsteen
The Old 97's
R.E.M.
The Knitters
Peter Gabriel
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Fishbone
They Might Be Giants
Robyn Hitchcock
Mike Cross
David Bowie
Cold Chisel
Elvis Costello
Brave Combo
Gogol Bordello
The Avett Brothers
U2 

But today I think I'm going to go with a song and a band whom I discovered live, rather than on record. They were opening for Jason Isbell at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, and I was along mostly because Kelly was very keen to hear Isbell. She also very much prefers to be at the front of the house for any show, however, so getting there early and seeing the opener is a frequent feature of our concert experience. This time the opener was a band from Raleigh (my birthplace) who were utterly unknown to us: American Aquarium.

As we soon learned, AA was a crack live outfit, combining the twang of steel guitar and singer BJ Barham's accent (courtesy of Reidsville, NC), with the heavy impact of drums, bass, and Barham's lyrics, which dealt a lot with the classic themes of country: travel, overindulgence, and heartbreak. Keen observation and a dry wit provided many of the songs with great lyrics, but BJ's presence as a frontman was also a major contributor to the band's success. At one point a guy in the crowd called him "asshole" and he just said, "Well, yeah... I mean, I'm pretty sure that's in our press kit. 'American Aquarium: five-piece alt-country band from Raleigh, NC, fronted by giant asshole BJ Barham.'"

The big sing-along of the night was the epic seven-minute howl "I Hope He Breaks Your Heart," but we were also treated to some tunes off their then-unreleased album, Burn. Flicker. Die., including the title track and the one I've chosen for today, "Casualties." It was their opener, and I'm not sure it's not the best opening song I've ever encountered in concert. After this sucker, you by god KNEW what this set was all about, and you wanted every bit of it right down your gullet. I met BJ at the merch table after the show and bought two CDs for $15 (they were ten bucks each, but he knew a loss leader when he saw one) and told him the next time I saw him, he'd be headlining.

I was right. And Kelly and I will be heading back to see him and his new bandmates in October. And if you're smart, you'll be there, too.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 19, 2017 3:49 PM.

The Music Meme: Day 13 was the previous entry in this blog.

The Music Meme: Day 15 is the next entry in this blog.

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