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February 4, 2007

Akron/Family Live Review: December 10th, 2006

Filed under: Akron!,Music — mooks @ 3:52 am

I saw Akron/Family almost two months ago. I saw them perform and met them in person before the show. I’d like to communicate this experience by focusing on the really important stuff – the stuff that had a serious impact – which will be pretty easy since, after two months, it’s all I can remember.

I saw them on December 10th, 2006. They played at a bar, the 12 Galaxies, in San Francisco. I am only twenty years old, so I had emailed Miles (the band’s bass player) before the show to ask if there was anyway I would get a chance to see them. Miles was quick to reply, saying he and the band would do what they could. I arrived at the bar on the 10th a good two hours before the set. The band arrived shortly after I did, in a big white van. I approached who turned out to be Seth and introduced myself. I met the rest of the guys shortly after. I cannot emphasize enough how natural this was. This was my first time meeting someone I really admire, let alone a band of them. They were ordinary, exuberant, easy going guys. In other words, they were exactly the kind of guys their music would suggest. It was very easy to converse with them.

Under the pretense that I was carrying equipment (and I actually was – I got to carry the ‘Running, Returning’ banjo!), I entered the venue and waited by the stage for the next four hours for them to start. I watched them sound check a few new songs (as well as Neil Young’s ‘Tonight’s the Night’). I got a chance to see them interact as a group and it was clear to see Akron/Family is going to be around for a while. If not for the stage, there would be no way to tell this was even a band. It was like the four music dorks at a party who sit in the corner after picking up the host’s instruments, jamming along whether or not anyone is listening. But holy shit did these music dorks ever seem focused. I could tell, when they took up their instruments and played, that they had a perfect mutual vision and that each one was equally determined to follow that vision.

When they finally got on stage for their set (after tuning up to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’), there was quite a lot of expectation. And right from the opening noise of ‘Moment’ all of those expectations were utterly destroyed. Amiable and relaxed as they seemed before, these guys are a presence on stage. A huge one. The cacophony of ‘Moment’ was like a full frontal assault on all the senses. The whole bar vibrated, destruction filled your ears, and the band leaped about the stage, smashing their instruments, refusing to let the audience breathe. The songs burst forth in a constant torrent. They were barely songs anymore. It’s impossible to describe what they become live. They constantly evolve, from peaceful ambient interludes (with all four members on a different woodwind) to the floor-stomping hum of ‘Running, Returning’. I remember specifically the moment i realized the fifteen minute jam I just heard was a variation on ‘Blessing Force’.

The best moment of the night was the performance of ‘Suchness’. I was always fond of the end of that song, but I didn’t think it would ever been replicated live. Boy, was I wrong! I remember the moment I realized they were going for it. The song was already respectably rockin’, with the whole band chugging away, before Seth bent down for a brief moment and fiddled with the equipment. When he came back up I realized what he had done and what he was about to do and I almost choked on my stomach. His guitar was bigger than anything I’ve ever heard. The bar couldn’t contain the sound. It loomed over all of us, ominous and terrifying, crushing us beneath it’s weight. And immediately after this exhausting ordeal, Dana’s snare announced the approach of a fan favorite, and the whole crowd threw up their hands and joined in ‘Raising the Sparks’. It’s a wonderful song to hear on record – to hear the four members to carry the song with their voices, alternating the title between them – but when you have those same four members along with eighty or so people, all of them screaming those words at different times, it’s something quite different. This kind of interaction was not uncommon. The whole audience seemed to get on stage during the closer, ‘The Rider’, and each took up a different instrument – from recorders to wooden boxes – to create this teeming mass of energy that vaguely resembled a song. As the audience got to the closing chant, it seemed clear what the lyrics meant. The band, the audience, even the drunks in the back, were all on that spaceship. I know it sounds corny as hell but damn it if it isn’t true.

Akron/Family must be seen live. To see how they play these songs will give you comprehensive insight into what they mean and why they exist in the first place.

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