Stage 48 had not met rtb’s and my expectations the last time we were there up in the balcony so this time I grabbed a seat on the couch off to the side to see if the experience would be any better. It was not. It didn’t help that the air-conditioning was up to full blast and everyone in the club was freezing.
We had a difficult time seeing all the members of American Aquarium and the stacks on the side of the stage blocked the bass and guitar amps, which contributed to the muddy sound. BJ Barham’s vocals were clear – another raspy voiced southerner singing alt-country. Also playing guitar was Ryan Johnson and Colin DiMeo, with Whit Wright on pedal steel, Bill Corbin on bass, and Kevin McClain on drums. Between the tight stage set-up of an opening act and the angle we were sitting at it seemed like a new guy was popping up for every song.
The band has been compared to Lucero and maybe that’s because of Barham’s voice or the whisky soaked lyrics. Otherwise there’s not too much of an overlap. They did play several downbeat songs and then finally one upbeat that melodically sounded like it could be a Gin Blossoms song. On another song Barham’s vocals sounded just like Cory Branan and the melody was Brananesque but the lyrics were not.
Justin Townes Earle is touring behind a new album and with a full band. Justin sang the first two songs solo and when the band came out for the third song the mix was just awful. At one point the woman next to us went over to the monitor engineer to complain. There was the muddiness from the bass and guitar amps and, as rtb said, the drums were too loud. violaleeblue noted that the bass was flat but that may be explained by Justin’s telling us that he’s not always in the correct key and the bass has to compensate and adjust, which is difficult. Justin also changes tempo during a song and when he’s singing alone it doesn’t matter but with the band everyone needs to keep the same beat.
No more bold announcements of who he is and that we’re going to hear hillbilly music. Justin’s version of Americana has gone way past the alt-country phase as he steps away from the hillbilly persona and gives us more of his own real self. More and more the albums are about lost loves and his relationships with his parents and how that has influenced his own relationships. It’s a more mature and inward-looking Justin, who did announce that he’s married and happy. He didn’t announce that he’s also sober but we could tell that he was.
But that’s not to say that the old songs are gone. He opened with “They Killed John Henry.” But most of the night was devoted to songs from his last two albums and since the last album was finished a year ago there were some songs that haven’t been recorded yet. Bad sound or not I was thrilled to see Justin play and be happy and to hear his new material and revisit some of the old favorites.
The Killed John Henry
Harlem River Blues
Call Your Mama
When the One You Love Loses Faith in You
Ain’t Glad I’m Leavin’
Someday I’ll Be Forgiven for This
Worried Bout the Weather
Memphis in the Rain
My Baby Drives
Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
Midnight at the Movies
Down on the Lower East Side
Someone Will Pay
Time Shows Fools
Today and a Lonely Night
Can’t Hardly Wait
By Carene Lydia Lopez