Dangermuffin, American Aquarium
The Pour House
American Aquarium’s BJ Barham never sits down on stage. On the other hand, it’s hard to picture Dangermuffin frontman Dan Lotti placed anywhere but on his swivel stool. The former thrives on the spastic energy of the night, the latter on the groovy stillness of the after-party. The two bandleaders represent opposite frames of mind: the immediacy of heartbreak vs. the wide-eyed wonder of the possible. Despite their divergent styles, the two guitarists and their bandmates nearly tore down the packed Pour House as a two-band bill.
Barham sang through fan favorites “Katherine Belle” and “I Ain’t Goin’ to the Bar Tonight” off last year’s Small Town Hymns before leading the band through a new, still-unreleased song, which stung in a way that fans are used to. With closed eyes and a hard-luck grimace, he sang, “Lonely ain’t easy/And lonely ain’t kind/And lonely won’t leave me/She’s a good friend of mine.”
The determined and tight power of the band didn’t just reinforce the sadness of the words; it added new dimensions, like the layers of background in a landscape painting. I wanted to photograph the painful sound that Whit Wright brought forth from the pedal steel, its ups and downs as expressive as the human voice.
Just as Wright’s pedal steel was the key to American Aquarium’s distinctive sound, lead guitarist Mike Sivilli’s milky fluidity on lead guitar was the key to Dangermuffin’s feel-good style, with his slowly built and generously concluded solos driving each song.
With drummer Steven Sandifer, the trio was the picture of Folly Beach relaxation as they glided through much of last year’s Moonscapes. But after “Gutter Dance,” the old 311 favorite “Stoney Baby,” and the Muffin’s popular “Fuego,” their skills stole the show.
Perhaps their best song was a reggae-tinged retelling of Pink Floyd’s classic “Breathe” with a long, winding intro from Sivilli’s finger slide and eerie echo effects on Lotti’s vocals.
The differences in styles and stage presence were ultimately irrelevant, as both bands were similarly focused on producing the exact sound they wanted. Dangermuffin’s relaxed demeanor disguised an ambition for musical effectiveness that mirrored the tight, enthusiastic Aquarium set. In the end, both bands did what they came to do: showcase their best.