Bowery Ballroom (4), 12 June 2007
Gosh, hate to be posting reviews a week late, but had to pipe up a bit about the Akron/Family show I was invited to check out last Tuesday at the Bowery Ballroom, hopefully doing it justice and not forgetting too much... [note: these photos kinda suck, so feel free to check out these much better ones from Dan, or check out his much more informed review here.]
My first impression of the band as they stepped on stage was: "these guys are all in the same band?" Seemed more like a random four dudes -- guys waiting at the barbershop -- than a unit, much less one that made good music. My initial impression couldn't have been more wrong as the evening would prove. The band is a quartet and in age-old quartet fashion, each one of them had a distinctive look: the dude with the porn-stache (bassist), the fella giving off the Vanilla Ice vibe (drummer), Boulder hippie circa 1997 (lead guitar), etc. I'm sure it would only take a few sessions with these guys to figure out which is the "funny one" or the "batshit crazy one." Anyhoo, they come out and do a pretty-much-acapella tune and I start getting that vibe. I mean Akron/Family has full-on BrooklynVegan-approved indie bona fides, but the show I saw Tuesday night seemed a lot more JamBase than Pitchfork. And if you swim like a fish and you smell like a fish... you might just be a fish.
The show zig-zagged through every typical jamband cliche from there with seemingly every song having a brand new "gimmick" along the way. There were long, twisted Yes/Rush/prog compositions that switched styles and directions midstream, so that you'd have the tune that started off like an uppity Irish reel that flipped into a deep-throated rock rager, etc. Tunes climaxed with tandem guitar solos a la moe. or devolved into quasi-drum circles like Rusted Root might do. Slide whistles and recorders and other lo-fi accouterments made almost as many appearances as extended guitar solos. Guests popped up on stage in groups of 3 or 4: a full-bore horn section for several spots, a set of female back-up singers from the opening band, a drum corps toward the end. Serious musicmaking was interrupted occasionally for goofiness and silly asides and boy band covers (I think?). The conversation with the audience was two-way throughout, especially as the show went on and the energy got a little hot.
So many things I've seen before from other bands, mashed together in a band that didn't seem to have any next-level musical chops that might pervade the typical Berklee-trained jamsters.... Akron/Family seemed to have so many reasons to be dismissed and yet, I could do nothing but enjoy the absolute fuck out of these guys. Sometimes the randomness is a distraction and sometimes it just plain works and these guys most certainly work. For a while I would have dubbed them the jamband that doesn't actually jam, but that proved not to be the case. Songs would come unglued, untethered and unhinged and enter a sort of "free" space for long extended "where am I?" stretches. It wasn't noodling or musical masturbation by any stretch, but they certainly were jamming and quite well, I might add. Two guitars, bass and drums, the band was incredibly tight both in playing and in their interactions all around. They enjoy playing together and making whacked out rock and roll music and it shows.
The room was pretty packed and the band is certainly and rightfully beloved by their fans which seem to run the gamut. The band played the crowd perfectly, urging them on in their Tuesday-evening glory and finally catching fire to the point where the bassist felt compelled to hop down to the floor and rock-out from within. The horns were in and out of the audience, at one point starting from the back of the room and moving up to the stage to join the action.
The show seemed to climax in a glut of on-stage action. The aforementioned guests converged en masse on the stage so that there was the base quartet, plus foursomes each of horns, drummers and singers, making 16 total musicians up there. From here loose went to sanatorium-level insanity with a whole lot of who-knows-what going on, maybe some beat boxing and rapping and audience clap-along/sing-along and otherwise loud but coherent noisemaking. Most of all it was fun. At long last, the plane of the stage was broken once more, this time with large portions of the (invited) audience streaming on stage and taking all those different hand drums and whistles and other goodies which had made cameos earlier in the evening and joining into the free-for-all. And it was right about this time that the pigeon left his hole and it didn't really matter who or what or why the Akron/Family... I was much more worried about when and where.
That was until I realized the lead guy, the one with the beard and glasses and black t-shirt reminded me of someone I used to know...
20 June 2007