Monday April 4, 2011
Akron/Family is not from Akron, Ohio.
I just wanted to clear that up right up top since I am, in fact, from Akron, Ohio while the proggy/jammy/folky/experimental indie band that awed a crowd at Rhythm Room is from Brooklyn/Portland/an energy vortex near the North American continental pole of inaccessibility in southwest South Dakota, about 20 miles outside the town of Kyle.
OK, I made up the part about South Dakota. However, that's exactly the sort of thing you could expect to read about Akron/Family, a band that has a refreshing knack for myth-making. They claim to have written their stellar new record, S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, while holed up in a cabin on the side of an active Japanese volcano (presumably it looks something like the one on the awesome record cover) and recorded it an an abandoned Detroit train station.
At least that's the story the band tells -- and the one we printed. It may or may not deserve to be filed next to "Siblinghood: Jack & Meg." But when a band says a former bandmate left the group to join a Buddhist Dharma center in the Midwest, no one raises an eyebrow when that group talks about getting permits to stage a show at Machu Pichu.
Upon hearing the mind-bending TNT -- or, especially, upon seeing the band lead a mesmerizing sing-along where a rapt audience cooed the phrase "Love and Space" until it became a transcendentalist chant as A/F did last night -- it's easy to suspend disbelief and enjoy the sincere oddity of the group's work.
The band opened with a drone played on a recorder over a backing track that sounded like a bag of rocks being drug across a wooden floor which morphed into the Set 'Em Wild Set 'Em Free title track. The trio, all of whom sing and often switch off from the standard guitarist-drummer-bassist alignment, tightly gripped the attention of a respectable Monday crowd.
"River" was a highlight of the early set, but it was the first sing-along of the night, the trance-like "Gulf of Mexxxxxicooo" chorus of the song "Island" that really got things going. Guitarist Seth Olinsky -- possibly the only man in the upper echelons of indie rock with a purist's ponytail -- started with a lecture about how the dance. The band asked the audience to do had "an inner technique and an outer technique," encouraging them to feel it "in the right brain hemisphere" as they held up one hand and took breaths in unison. Sounds like New Age kookery -- until you're there in the middle of it, where it's pretty cool. Threatening to "kick the asses" of anyone who didn't join in kept things from getting too Krishna-y.
The band's bravery served them well as they kept a drum-circle like clap along to "Another Sky" going on far longer than most bands would dare -- getting the audience to froth up good vibes along the way. The audience's sing repetition of the "wooooa-ooooo-oa-ooa-oa-ooa-oa" chorus was the best audience sing-along I've seen in a long while. However, it only held that title until the group's encore and that moving version of "Love and Space."
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Last Night: Akron/Family at Rhythm Room.
Personal Bias: It's actually always annoyed me how they took the name of my hometown for their band, but I like the band enough to forgive them. Hell, I ended up buying a t-shirt -- this is not common for me.
The Crowd: Bearded dudes and kinda hippie chicks in long flowing skirts. A very good singing crowd, I think. Phoenix sounded much better than the crowds in the YouTube videos I've seen.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Is that Akron/Family?" "I have no idea what they look like." "Me either." "That's not them." "Yeah, it is." I love that old "what do these guys looks like?" dynamic for bands in such an image-conscious and digitized era.