It’s fine and well to champion a band for being uncompromising but the reality of it, experienced in real time with all its hiccups and question marks, can be a different matter. Thus, not everyone inside The Independent on this night was operating on the same wavelength. A core constituency, veterans of Akron/Family’s expect-nothing, go-anywhere ethos, raised their hands and spirits high to every Simon Says prod from the stage, but amongst the non-converted there were grumblings. Unlike many earlier Akron/Family performances in the Bay Area, this one didn’t bulldoze the psyche, scream into microphones or caper frenetically. This was a silkier organism with a bigger heart, more relaxed and willing to float a bit as the music flowed like water on the ground, moving with the landscape, cutting meandering pathways where before there was only sand. As with most things AkAk, it wasn’t for everyone, but for those willing to drop their defenses and body surf their current, well, it was kinda wondrous.It probably didn’t help that opener Delicate Steve raged like the mega-size Akron/Family band of 2007, i.e. a trundling, sonic polyglot filled with technically challenging music touched by junkyard wildness. A buddy at this show swears he hears a lot of Zappa in them – it’s definitely in there – but these ears place them closer to the first surge of Brazilian Tropicalismo and crazed geniuses like Gilberto Gil and Jorge Ben – rule breakers with a lust for melody and strong playing. Mostly instrumental, Delicate Steve drew from their delightfully curious 2011 debut Wondervisions (released January 25 on Luaka Bop), but familiarity mattered little given the immediacy of their indelicate approach, which makes one grin at their name. Packed with effervescent energy and comin-at-ya dynamics, Delicate Steve proved a near perfect lead-in to Akron/Family, sharing some overlapping sensibilities and a fully simpatico vibe with the headliners.
Once onstage, the three members of Akron/Family plinked and plonked a moody build into the concert proper, though “concert” is the wrong word – by a long stretch – for what they do. Especially in the trio format of recent years, this is an experience, and as I told a number of folks before this evening, one gets as much out of their time with Akron/Family as they’re willing to put in. While patience is required at times, this band is always reaching out, anxious to join hands and skip to where there is laughter, dancing and honey…or scary monsters and super creeps. I feel an openness around these guys that’s different than almost any band. I’m not standing around waiting for a particular song because I’m so wrapped up in simply going wherever opens up on our shared journey. In ways, this sounds horribly hippy but there’s so much avant-craziness and punky joy to Akron/Family that they handily escape any patchouli scented, kind grilled cheese taint. Call it a pleasurable Jungian pantsing that you can wiggle to.Awash in the preponderance of new pieces from Akron’s latest, Akron/Family: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju-TNT (released February 8 on Dead Oceans), one felt the universe expand and their own capacity for joy, compassion, understanding, etc. grow right along with it. Maybe not if you were standing around waiting for “Ed Is A Portal,” but if one dived right in from the initial auditory smudging right through to the shimmering, voluptuous ending, there was no escaping the sense one had traveled, and no small distance. That Akron/Family achieved this with less need to bang on pots and hoot is a testament to the great thinking and intuition behind this music.
More than ever, I wonder if they are really a rock band at all or just a hybrid beyond categorization, a thoroughly modern thing infused with the old gods and earth-wise soul of pagan times. They sing better than ever and the interplay between Seth Olinsky (guitar, vocals), Miles Seaton (bass, vocals) and Dana Janssen is fascinating, often seamless, and capable of skipping between sighing sing/shout-alongs, outer limits freakiness and ballsy rock, frequently in the space of a single tune.
What this San Francisco visit made clearer to me than ever is Akron/Family are utterly unique, and while not everyone is going to love them, I embrace them – warts and weirdness and all – clutching them close to my breast, thankful for these men that make music exciting and unpredictable for those open to the experience.
Here’s some killer shots of the evening from ace lensman John Margaretten.