Akron/Family :: 03.07.09 :: Hemlock Tavern :: San Francisco, CA
I think the guys in Akron/Family are from rural Pennsylvania, and even if they're not, I'm going to continue to believe it because that's what they sound like and I dig the image it forms in my head. You can almost see these three wonderful weirdos strolling out from a thicket of trees, brambles in their beards, stringed things and percussive joy machines tucked under their arms, smiles plastered across their forgiving eyes. They are somehow both totally primitive and fully advanced. Both dancing through the cosmos and rooted deep into the soil of our earth. I'm not crazy about using the word "spiritual" here, but these cats are tapped into SOMETHING bigger than this time and place.
Standing on the stage in front of a sold out (not hard to do at this venue) and very packed crowd of rather adoring fans, Akron/Family eased us into their sonic headrush with a delicate instrumental intro that sounded eerily like late-90s era Slip, so much in fact that it could have been "Alsoa" if you closed your eyes and pictured three other musicians of about the same age and mental fortitude. This was the second of three shows at the Hemlock Tavern (which feels more like an old meat locker than a concert hall) and it seemed like most of the folks were also on hand for the previous evening's show.
Warming up the room with the acoustic strum, deep bass and handclaps of "Meek Warrior" and the subtle slinking hints of African highlife in "River," Akron welcomed us into their world, a place of ritual and uninhibited joy. While not as un-hinged and fully flowing as the last time I saw the band (High Sierra, read the review here), it's simply impossible to not be won over by their childlike exuberance and scholarly ability on their gear. One gets the sense that Seth Olinsky (guitars, vocals, electronics), Miles Seaton (bass, vocals, electronics) and Dana Janssen (drums, vocals, electronics) were classically trained and have learned all the rules - you just can't break them this effectively if you don't know what you're doing, and these guys definitely know what they are doing. Akron is fifty bands in one. There's psychedelic rock, folk, free-jazz, hip-hop, punk, dance, gospel and heaps more, and they throw their back into every minute of it, creating a wickedly raw, exposed form of music that is absolutely impossible to cage up and put into a category box.
Playing a few songs from their upcoming release, Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, (due May 5 on Dead Oceans) it wasn't until "Ed Is A Portal" that things broke free. Landing upon us with a wall of distorted electronic noises, rhythmic chants and a wall of feedback, soon there was added percussion from the guys in Citay (who opened) and a chick on the recorder. It was hard to get a head count with the fans freaking out up front, but there were at least six or seven people onstage and at this point beer was spilling and bodies were moving.
| Dana Janssen - Akron/Family by Aiello|
Not wanting to loose the energy they had created, from here they took it straight into "Everyone Is Guilty." Although it's the first song on their upcoming release it's been a strong live track for a while. Built on an elastic bassline and weird time signature, it's some sort of future funk that Herbie Hancock and Frank Zappa would totally dig. This version happened to be a little rough around the edges, the changes not firing off clean, but that's one of the risks you run with Akron: they forgo restraint and always fly as close to the proverbial edge as possible. Loud, loose and out there is their game. It's often more about the energy than execution – but of course it's when these two match up that transcendence occurs.
Bringing us in for a safe landing, Akron finished the night with the final song on the upcoming release called "Last Year." Done mostly a capella with foot stomps, hand claps and a very rootsy harmonica/acoustic guitar accent, we were back in the woods of Pennsyltucky, drinking moonshine and passing joints. As we dipped and swayed with our glassy eyes, the three bards continued to sing, eventually morphing the encore into "Woody Guthrie's America." It was joyous.
Leaving the show I couldn't escape the thought that Akron/Family should be the house band at an Indian sweat lodge. With all the chanting and clapping, sweating and twirling, space travel and third-eye cleansing, Akron inhabit this type of mystical space – combine that with their plugged in intensity and the foaming-at-the-mouth attack of their trade and it's easy to believe.
Akron/Family is on tour now, dates available here.
Check our 2008 feature with Akron here.
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