It depends on what you ask me, and when, about American Aquarium, whether I’ll be sentimental, or cheerfully cranky, or a million other things — but one thing I will always, always be is fond, is deeply affectionate for those five guys and all 28 ex-band members. There’s no other band where I can tell you the exact first time I heard so many of their songs; “PBR Promenade” at the acoustic Jason Isbell/Browan Lollar two-men-in-a-Toyota-Celica tour in March 2008, “Hurricane” with just Sarah on fiddle and Bill on upright to accompany BJ, opening for Caitlin Cary at the Pour House sometime that same summer. The original Bones version of “Lonely Ain’t Easy” years ago, maybe at the Lincoln, and the new version at Motorco this year, sometimes in March.
They recorded a live album at the Pour House last night, on their annual first Saturday in December homecoming date there. They sold the place out, Hopscotch-level one-in-one-out, which I never doubted they would do. I’ve seen plenty of wild AA shows there before, after all. Their crowd’s shifted in demographic, though, at least the ones who were there last night, and that’s great for the band because it’s new enthusiastic audience, but it’s less awesome for me. Everyone in the front three rows of an AA show used to know me and my camera, and last night it was a losing battle — even with the phrase “I’m shooting for the band” at my disposal — to fight through the crowd, for the most part, because they loved them some American Aquarium but they had them some punkass bitch manners. Asshole in the cowboy hat who poured a beer on me and then got punched, hard, in the kidneys? You deserved it and I’m not sorry and fuck your stupid hat.
I had a blast, though. I think that 20-somethings should learn concert manners, I really do, but no matter what, I had a blast. They’ve spent the last four years on the road, full time, these boys, leaving girlfriends and wives and family at home to build a following one person at a time in tiny Southern towns and bigger Western ones. They drive me nuts, they make me crazy, and I will still always love that band like the sound of my own heart, for reasons that are mine, theirs, and ours, but probably not yours. They sounded phenomenal, even if BJ forgot the words to “Good Fight” twice and had to move “Manhattan” in the set so he could get it right. The old stuff, the new stuff, the stuff in between. They were fierce and tight and this album will be so wonderful; it will sound like so many happy nights to me, singing along and dancing and always, always howling the chorus to “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart”.
I was unbearably proud last night. And that’s all I ever want to feel, when my friends get famous.
Cary Ann Heart and Michael Trent, who play together as Shovels & Rope, very nearly stole the entire show from American Aquarium, with a set that was one the loudest, hardest rocking things I’ve ever heard at the Pour House — with nothing but a two piece kick kit and an acoustic guitar. I hadn’t seen either of them in a few years, but they just blew my mind completely.
Kenny Roby, who’s been a brilliant songwriter and guitarist in the Triangle as long as I can remember, was the first open, and the douchey crowd basically shouted straight through his gorgeous set. It’s entirely possibly that Pour House soundman Jac, Dan Dan The Taping Man, and I were the only people who paid attention to him, but he was fantastic. He and Jac used to play in a punk band together. Jac told me. I begged them to get back together for one show just so I could take pictures, but he wouldn’t, so I had to settle for loving Kenny’s set like it was my child. That good, guys.
Full set is here. Wonderful night.