American Aquarium - This Raleigh band features a whole lot of guitars. The lead vocalist plays acoustic in front of two electric guitarists and one steel guitar who occasionally dabbles with keyboards. There is a rhythm section as well, and initially I am rather surprised that so many instruments creates such a light sound. Eventually the arrangements improve and take shape with a certain finesse as they enhance the rootsy songs. I prefer the keyboards over the steel (as usual) as they offer something different to work under the swirling lead guitars that elevated a few of these songs into something quite cool. They had a long set of 47 minutes to showcase enough quality to get the audience sufficiently warmed up with more than a few of them likely becoming new fans.
Justin Townes Earle - I've enjoyed Earle's music for some time now. His dark, wry style with a deep mean streak makes his hybrid of country-folk-roots music edgy and exciting. Tonight, he has a rhythm section and guitarist/steel guitarist whom I recognize from a previous tour. The band is solid and fully engaged in the dark yet attractive atmosphere of the songs. Initially, the sound was not there as the vocals were not coming through (kind of important here). The soundman righted that issue quickly enough and there were no distractions thereafter, as the set flowed smoothly. I like the edge of these intense songs with such smooth stylish delivery as that contrast keeps my mind fully engaged, unlike many other bands that play in this general style. Earle's songs are rather timeless and don't comfortably fit any genre or place, which makes them all the better for it. This is the first of two nights and if you have not experienced him on stage, you should head on out to the Birchmere tonight. He's always worth the effort.
Quote of the Night: Justin Townes Earle talking about how he probably will never write happy songs... "One of the worst things in the world is a song that feels better than you do."