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American Aquarium is a band with purpose

The Troubadour, Los Angeles, August 11, 2022

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Primary vocalist/songwriter BJ Barham saved some of the best for last when closing out American Aquarium's powerful show on, as he put it, a "school night" at the storied Troubadour club. One of these was a slightly older one called "One Day at a Time," which finds Barham being accountable regarding his sobriety journey. The other, "The First Year," was even more gripping, as it featured Barnham trying to come to terms with his mother's recent death. The latter is taken from the act's recent album "Chicamacomico." Its lyric expresses how each holiday after her passing hurts him greatly. While most American Aquarium songs are just as emotionally vulnerable, this unplugged section hit hardest of all.

This is not to suggest that full band songs didn't carry a punch. "The Day I Learned to Lie to You" was also filled with plenty of pained honesty. Barham seemed to spill more honesty than many couples share in private with marriage counselors. Songs like this one supported Barham's hilarious story about the group's decision to not play weddings. This was decided because so many of their songs speak about the many ways love can go wrong, which is not what lovebirds and their guests want to hear about on their wedding day. As Barham put it, American Aquarium charges 'fuck you' money to play these events. In other words, their price is so high, nobody in their right mind would pay such an exorbitant fee. His story, though, also included a wealthy man that didn't care about the high cost. American Aquarium was his son's favorite band, after all. It went badly, of course, once the son's bride discovered this was American Aquarium and not Tyler Childers (presumably her favorite).

American Aquarium sing a lot about the trials and tribulations of being in a rock band. The rocker "Casualties," for example, states, "Gave my heart to the highway/She returned I full of holes/We're just casualties of rock and roll." Maybe so, but their career pain is also their fans' gain, in the form of an impressive body of work. Before singing "One Day at a Time," Barham offered to meet together anyone struggling with substance abuse after the show. And he meant it. It left the undeniable impression that American Aquarium is a band with purpose and one that really cares about their followers.

Willi Carlisle opened with a delightful set of acoustic folk music. He plays guitar, banjo and accordion and has a wicked sense of humor. His set included a heartfelt cover of Steve Goodman's "The Ballad of Penny Evans," which has lost none of its bite since the Viet Nam era. He closed with an audience sing along on "You Heart's a Big Tent." He may have been a new face to many at the start, but it sounded like everybody in the audience was his fan by the time his short set ended.

With all the great music presented this Thursday night, it was more than worth losing a little sleep on a school night.

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