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Tuesday April 30 2024
  7:00PM doors -- music at 7:30PM
  •••  ALL AGES
$20 in advance / $25 at the door
Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties
 alternative rock
Pile of Love
 power pop shoegaze
Cliff Morgan

Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties
-from Brooklyn, NY
-Sweating under the spotlights at a ritzy club in Hollywood, scrappy frontman Aaron West of emo-Americana ensemble the Roaring Twenties, a bit out of his element, starts to slur his words. He’s lost more than he can count. His face burns with mounting anger––at the label, at his weary bandmates, at the sorry state of the world as it sputters back to life like a ’67 Mustang hot off cinder blocks, but above all at himself. The whiskey’s all he can do to quiet the pain in his hand as he strums, busted from pouring concrete. Even surrounded by the people who’ve taken him in when no one else would, this family he’s been given, he can’t seem to get it right. “Fuck building a bridge, I’m burning it down,” he screams on highvoltage rocker “Spitting in the Wind,” booze rough in his throat, “I’ll see you in the water.”

But he’ll be okay. After all, he doesn’t really exist.

The alcohol is iced tea, and the man in the Buffalo Bills shirt is an Eagles fan. Ten years ago, Dan Campbell, frontman of the Philadelphia rock outfit The Wonder Years, masterminded a new character as a tutorial for himself––could he achieve the pathos of his autobiographical ballads in the world of fiction?––but also in the inviolability of the human spirit. Aaron’s story centered on one impossible, perfect question: when we have nothing left, why keep going? It started with just one song, an experiment with collaborator Ace Enders, of the Early November, about a man whose wife loses a baby. But soon Campbell realized the story couldn’t begin or end there, that there was an entire person he needed to know.

So Campbell took Aaron across the country, Long Island to southern California to Savannah, guided him through bar fights, a table of divorce papers, the church piano bench beside a nephew he’s grown to love like a son, beaches and highways and couches and phone booths, all in an attempt to understand what it is that allows a person to continue in the face of catastrophe. When he has nothing else, he has his guitar, the stage, the lights. He has the music.

After ten years, two albums, an EP, and a single, the answer to Aaron’s brutal seeking comes in the form of his triumphant third chapter, IN LIEU OF FLOWERS. Not a collection of elegies so much as a concept opera, an ode to the underdog, la the Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas or the Weakerthans’ Reunion Tour, Campbell and the band take AW20’s signature dynamics to new heights, marrying the crash of punk percussion and power chords with the roots twang of banjo and pedal steel, tracing the imaginary heartbreak-nomad’s turbulent arc toward healing, from the bottom of bottles in ashy motel rooms and desecrated basement venues––“gig’s in an abandoned church in Glasgow, the irony’s a little on the nose,” he sneers over plaintive fingerpicking on “Alone at St. Luke’s”––to the disorienting tarmac where he staggers on and off tour, to the passenger seat of a car with an old friend and new love, and, eventually, to the rehab facility where he gets his voice back.

Longtime fans will recognize the bursts of Springsteenian horns, led by Chiemina Ukazim’s bombastic, stirring saxophone, that keep the pulse and grit of the working class East Coast close at hand. Louder and brasher than ever, and elsewhere even more intimate, more devastating, with keepsakes and callbacks––shorebirds, the hue of a certain citrus fruit, the interpolation of past horn arrangements––for those who’ve accompanied him on his journey from the beginning, Aaron West manages to stay as clear-eyed and wry as he’s ever been, the acid-spit humor that comes only from tragedy. IN LIEU OF FLOWERS isn’t about perfect choices, perfect endings, perfect people, it’s about fucking up, and learning how to be held again.

In the record’s shocking final moments, Aaron, wrung out and made new, returns to the beginning of his story, a place he never fathomed he would ever go again. But if you know how to look, every return to the past promises something previously unimaginable, something new. Like Aaron says, “Ain’t that the fucked up thing about hope?”

Pile of Love
-from Los Angeles, CA
-Pop rock immediacy, off-kilter indie quirks, and even a touch of shoegaze textures to form a sound that's instantly satisfying.

Cliff Morgan