12/27/13 Cleveland, Ohio

I: The Median, All In, Strange Times, War Pigs, King for a Day


In the depths of winter, Cleveland surely looks similar to Buffalo. Despite the frenzy of negotiating I-90 on a frozen afternoon, the guys in Aqueous remain on their game among the Rust Belt decor of Northeast Ohio.

They’ve played often in dark taverns in places like Cleveland, where five curious souls line the bar and cast interested ears toward the blistering what-the-fuckery coming off the stage. The quartet is an unassuming group, but they play as though thousands are packed into the room.

Inside Beachland Ballroom, a crowd is slowly gathering. Most are coming for headliners and local heavy-hitters Broccoli Samurai — good friends of Aqueous. The guys from Buffalo pound out a short set that goes long on the new stuff. Here, in environs far away from their hometown hot spots, is where vast numbers of the truly uninitiated will get their first dose of AQ rock. Judging by conversations at the merch table with band manager Josh Holtzman, people seem to be picking up the thread constantly. In fact, a common sight at Aqueous’ shows over the past year has been the person hanging out up front and shaking his or her head in absolute disbelief. (Watch for this phenomenon at your next show. Unconsciously, you’ll be joining.)

The musicians’ onstage interplay is just terrific theater. They’re fully in tune with the simple fact that top-tier improvisation comes first from solid communication. At any point during a jam, for instance, a glance or smirk from Loss can signify a twist toward something altogether different. And McPhaden often kicks up comic relief from the back of the stage.

After the brief set, the guys hang out with budding fans throughout the night. They’ve got about 200 miles to drive – 400 round-trip for this quick jaunt out to Cleveland.

“You can go do all that other shit that everyone else does and you could be well off and live sustainably,” Sonricker says. “But I think it’s important to do something that just makes you happy all the time. It’s just a passion that we have to produce music and just be in a band with your three friends.”

“Every year, we’re doing pretty good,” Loss adds, riffing on the band’s evolution. ”And if I were to be told then what we’d be doing in a year, I’d be like, ‘Oh, shit! Nice!’ Every year we’re going a little further out, a little step at a time.”

As far as the road goes, the band is eyeing more festival sets this year, which became a series of turning points throughout 2013. Gantzer also mentions heading south and west, broadening the scope of future tours.

The last few years have really shown them the power of joining forces with other bands – whether via touring or the festie circuit. And it’s been an awe-inspiring trip thus far. The first time they performed at moe.down was in 2012; that was their first major festival. “They were our idols at the time. They still are,” Gantzer says.

Likewise, the band was hanging out at Terrapin Station each year for awhile – paying face to get in for a weekend of music. “Those were great memories for us anyway,” Gantzer says. “Then, out of the blue, we got an offer to play there. It was a dream come true. We all took a shot of tequila that day.

“It was meaningful,” he adds. “And that opened as many doors for us as we could have hoped. We consider ourselves lucky to get on any of this major bills. It’s progress.”

The band capped 2013 with 128 shows played, many of them in dark, quiet corners of the Northeast. Some of them were less attended than the average practice session.

“You’re playing in very small rooms with very few people, and you’re gauging interest. It’s a lot of work that you put in,” Gantzer says. “But we’ve gotten to see it build. And that’s exciting in its own regard, but to do that with your best friends…”


12/31/13 Erie, Pa.

I: The Median, Skyway > Eon Don, Complex Part II, Coyote Run, Africa

II: Auld Lang Syne > Master of Puppets > Origami, Dave’s Song > Kitty Chaser (Explosions), King for a Day > Willy is 40, All In, Mean Mr. Mustard > Polythene Pam > She Came in Through the Bathroom Window > Golden Slumbers > Carry That Weight > The End

Encore: Her Majesty > Warren in the Window


New Year’s Eve, always a night of celebration and expansion for a band, brought 2013 to a close and delivered unto fans the fourth installment of Aqueous’ Live Nugs series. And whoo-boy, this was a whopper.

The crown jewel of the collection is a 21-minute “All In” from Manchester, N.H. Weaving in and out among various moods, the guys showcase true evolution in their craft. Listen to shows from 2012 or earlier. It’s all great stuff, of course, but during the second half of last year they really elevated things.

“We’re pretty picky with that process,” Gantzer says of picking and choosing the final track listing. Vol. 4 also features “Strange Times,” “Origami,” “Complex,” and “King for a Day.” “We want something that’s really going to represent the band, especially with these new markets we’re getting into and the festivals and all that. When we put a new live album out, we want it to reflect the current state of the band. I like to think that the band is always shifting and moving, but I think that this is a culmination of the past tour.”

With studio time bridging March and April of this year, the Aqueous community is abuzz with speculation about which new tracks will make the cut.

“We’ve actually got at this point more than album’s worth of new material,” Gantzer says. “We’re trying to figure out what represents the band the best. We treat the studio differently that we do the live stuff. Like, what is the purpose of this song?” To that end, the band released Live Nugs V.4 on New Year’s Eve, granting five monster jams to usher in 2014.

“Complex,” “All In,” and “King for a Day” anchor the mix in their own ways. While it’s unclear if those tunes will make it onto the next album (and/or in what form), they’re cherished now as moments in time that reflect who Aqueous was in the fall of 2013. It’s an unbelievably tight listen, with more than enough proof that this band should be listened to as often as possible.

“We’ve been getting into more ways that we can conversate with each other musically and become tighter as musicians,” Gantzer says. “That’s always been a thing for us, but we’ve been working in different ways and coming with new things that we can implement and new ways of listening to each other and responding.” Bands that jam well have no choice but to do this, but Aqueous has been massaging the lines of communication from the very beginning (Live Nugs V.1 is a delight and it showcases those early sensibilities).

Offstage, the band spends time in groups of two or three (sometimes the whole band) in long practice sessions. The idea is to tighten the hatches and familiarize themselves with the various, open-ended directions a song could take at any point. They’re also fond of learning surprise cover tunes now and then. The first couple Live Nugs albums featured the likes of “Benny and the Jets,” “Run Like an Antelope” and “Franklin’s Tower.” They played Muse’s “Hysteria” for the first time back in March.

The latest release is all original, though, and it opens with a fiery “Strange Times.” That tune became a quick favorite after showing up on the band’s last studio effort, Willy is 40. As an opener to the Nugs showcase, it works perfectly.

There’s a great ambient jam early on in this one – mining the musicians’ influences for Pink Floyd-type landscapes, surely – but things heat up really fast. There’s extra mustard all over this thing.

As the year went on, the band dropped a handful of new tunes into the mix. “King for a Day” highlights at least one major strain in the band’s evolution. Gantzer takes a righteous stab at slide on this one, reflecting what he says is a focus on the work of guitarists like Derek Trucks and Jack White lately.

“I ended up getting really inspired by, you know, that riff rock,” Gantzer says. “We skinned it back a bit and made it a little simple in its approach, but then we have that section toward the end where it builds. A lot of that is inspired by a lot of the stuff we’ve been listening to.”

The version that shows up on Live Nugs V.4 closed out the Nov. 8 show in New Hampshire and it certainly has that sweeping sense of finale throughout. “King” hasn’t shown up as a studio take (yet), but the songwriting and compositional structure represents firm footing for a band always interested in reaching toward and reflecting back on its own destiny. Check it out, in fact: Live Nugs V.4 is book-ended by “Strange Times” and “King For A Day,” which both feature wildly different approaches to songwriting but also balance at least partially on major-key, slide-oriented jams.

“That’s the other side of it. The songwriting is developing, and also the improvising during the set,” Gantzer says.

Sonricker chimes in: “We’ll write a song, and that’s the song. But then we’ll improvise it and that could form into something else. We can jam on a certain part, and that will then become part of the song. A lot of our stuff comes from that rigorous process of jamming it out. And we want to get that live feeling in the studio.”

3/15/14 Erie, Pa.
I: Complex > Complex Part II, Mosquito Valley Part I > Marty > They’re Calling for Ya > Origami, Mice > Shine on You Crazy Diamond

II: Uncle Phil’s Parachute, 20/20 > Timmy’s Blades > Hysteria, Strange Times, Kitty Chaser (Explosions), Lass Makes More

Encore: Staring into the Sun


It is St. Patrick’s Day in Erie, Pa.

Well, it’s March 15, which is as close as we’re gonna get to weekend night debauchery this time around. Aqueous is in town, so – duh – if you’re in, you’re here.

The streets are filled out with patent green shirts and slurred screams of joy. The crooked i, what the band might very well call “second home,” is jubilantly opening for business amid the madness outside. There’s something about this spot that calls out to the herd. The promises of two sets and a dazzling light show. The ebb and flow of the Lake Erie tide just a few blocks away. And even with only a few years on the books for the band, the history.

Every great band has its spots. This is one of them.

Inside, the crowd gathers around mixed drinks and talk of all these new songs the band is rolling out. Before long, the lights dim. McPhaden hits the stage wearing a plastic glasses-mustache combo. More theater. We’re overjoyed.

The show, on its own merits, is incredible. Indeed, the fever pitch Erie crowd volleys such intense energy back toward the band that the musicians have no choice but to unleash something deep within themselves here. People have come from all over New York and points further out there to be at this show. They’re relentless in their enthusiasm throughout the night.

Two weeks after the show, the crooked i management announces that this is the end. The place is closing. For good.

The fan base audibly considers that Aqueous will never play another crooked i show again.

And with that unexpected news comes the swift return to impermanence. Like a soaring “Complex” jam or a memory of that one time we all did that one thing, all moments pass into the ether. Aqueous is happening right now.

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