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Review: American Aquarium bring soul, twang to New World Brewery



I am sure I'm not the first person to point out that American Aquarium sounds like a reality show on Animal Planet. Or a magazine you'd read while waiting for the the vet to deworm your cat.

Yeah, it's a clunky name for a band. But they got it half right. The North Carolina sextet is most definitely an American band, all Seger and Springsteen and Petty, with a piano and a pedal steel and a diary full of songs about women who done 'em wrong. 

On Tuesday night at New World Brewery, on their second trip through Tampa Bay -- frontman B.J. Barham said the crowd of several dozen was about "17 times" as big as the crowd who came the first time -- American Aquarium performed a hootenanny's worth of raggedly catchy alt-country anthems in the making.

From the drunken eff-you twang of Ain't Going to the Bar Tonight to the scream-along chorus of the closer, I Hope He Breaks Your Heart, Barham yelped and yowled like a man on a mission -- and that mission is to pick up, and later fight with, pretty young belles across the Southeast.

"You ain't Miss Right, but you're Miss Right Now," he howled on Louisiana Beauty Queen, whose meaty '70s swagger borrows heavily from Pink Floyd's Money. Then, on Queen of the South: "I am what I am, but I ain't what I ain't." Sorry, ladies, but this American's gotta run free.

Between songs, Barham was on all night, ragging on an unruly fan in Orlando (yeah, man, screw those guys!), riffing on, quoting David Cross jokes and musing on the state of his road hygiene. "I've had girls tell me my hair smells like cheese," he said. "But good cheese."

Pungent or not, Barham was more than capably backed by his band, with pianist Zack Brown and pedal steelman Whit Wright especially putting on a show. It was tight, straight-up Nasvhille musicianship -- but back-alley Nashville, not Music Row.

American Aquarium are a band who wears their influences on their sleeve (in this case, literally; Barham had on a Hold Steady T-shirt beneath his hoodie). So it shouldn't have been a surprise when they elected to cover Springsteen's Born to Run. It was a good cover, and it got the crowd dancing, but man, the balls on those guys, the sheer balls, even attempting it! Gotta give 'em credit for that.

Tampa's King of Spain opened the show with a short, six-song set of emotive poptronic soundscapes, a la Carbon Leaf or Alexi Murdoch. Live, Matt Slate's bedroom indie-pop project has been given added depth thanks to the addition of bassist Daniel Wainright

The hypnotic opener Motions and the lush, breathy closer, Animals Part Two, were lovely, but the highlight was Green Eyes, a rollicking folk hymm with Fleet Foxes-like vocal harmonies. It was a gentle, ethereal moment that warmed the cool air of the New World patio, right before American Aquarium turned the heat even higher.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:16pm]


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