I wander into The Buccaneer, known to many as “Memphis’s favorite hipster dive bar”, from time to time on a whim, usually right around show time. Normally, they just have a great jukebox playing an outrageous selection of punk, classic country and classic rock — imagine hearing Black Sabbath followed by Johnny Cash followed by The Oblivians. That’s good enough for me, but bands travelling through Memphis can occasion to end up there. It has a good sound system and the room is really small, so you can hear the band (although you can’t move if it’s packed).
Anyways, the last two nights I’ve been treated to two excellent shows from two very different bands. The first was a band from Fayetteville, Arkansas called (rather oddly) Memphis Pencils. This six-piece outfit who all hail from that university town are clearly influenced by bands like Belle & Sebastian, Okkervil River, Elliott Smith and a bunch of other names I can’t quite bring myself to drop right now. These kids gave a performance that was filled with endearing charms and sweet melodies. Their first EP, Crayon Jewels was hand painted and drawn and given to me to listen to. It’s quite lovely, I think you’ll agree. All the songs are available to download from their MySpace page for free, so I will post up a couple of my faves — “Un Dandy Dia” and “Keep It Simple, Sartre”.
Memphis Pencils – Un Dandy Dia
Memphis Pencils – Keep It Simple, Sartre
The following night, I wander in and see a band setting up. There are people coming in by small clusters. In the crowd, I notice Ben Nichols and Roy Berry from Lucero, a sign that the show will probably be pretty good. I had no idea I was in store for a tour-de-force performance from up-and-comers American Aquarium from Raleigh, N.C. With an impassioned vocal delivery from vocalist/guitarist B.J. Barham that recalls a nascent stateside Shane McGowan combined with the band’s incredibly gifted songwriting, the music of American Aquarium contain a series of clues which provide a southern parallel to the northern working anthems of Bruce Springsteen. If you love American rock and roll music, you will find it hard not to be immediately taken by American Aquarium. They have an album called Antique Hearts which is well worth getting. Their next recording was done with the magical Greg Elkins and (among other things) features backing vocals from the inimitable Caitlin Cary. Check out this gorgeous live performance of “Road To Nowhere”, then go visit them on MySpace to hear more songs.
American Aquarium – Road To Nowhere (Live @ WKNC)