Akron/Family live at The Khyber | review

Magnaphone | Stephen Bounds

a mid-western hillbilly grip with avant-garde punch

I don't want to get old, and I don't want to be alone. I don't go to bars too often and it's not because I don't drink; I have a half-gallon jug of Absolut vodka here at home. No, it's because the sounds and the smells and the atmosphere only remind me that someday I'm going to die, and it's probably not going to be with six beautiful young women looking after me on my private island in the tropics. I arrived at the Khyber in time to see Akron / Family, or at least that's who I was told they were. I enjoyed a strong set of music from them. They were surprising and daring; a mid-western hillbilly grip with avant-garde punch. I like that, and I like the drummer. He looks like a zealous young guy who might not cut it until you see him maintain his loss of control. Shit, I have trouble talking to telephone operators. He's a good man too. Honest and friendly, and healthy, like a man who knows his limitations even if he hadn't slept in three days. None of us were getting sleep that week. Some of us were in love and others were just obsessing over their jobs or maybe on some kind of drug. I was standing in the back with a fellow painter, and a figure model, when I saw the cowboy from Mulholland Drive, all white hat and no eyebrows. He cut through the crowd to the left, then back toward me. When he passed me, he looked at me with an expression that seemed to say "Do I know you?" to which I replied, "Hi Michael." I cannot and will not say that Michael Gira is a cheerful man. He ignored me and had a seat behind the table to take over the CD sales and enjoy a cigarette. That's when I got nervous. I can't handle rejection. I've been listening to Swans for fifteen years. I am not a fan, but I have a deep personal affection for that band, and a moment like that is why I write for Magnaphone. So what did I do? Did I leave the cowboy alone? No. I knocked over the table. That's right. I leaned on the end to ask him if he would take a photo with me, and that's when the legs gave in like tin foil. The whole table of CDs went sliding down on to the floor. Michael immediately stood up and walked off like nothing happened but an embarrassing act of supreme idiocy, and left me to take care of the mess. I glanced upward in my scrambled humiliation to see only his back. Angels of Light's set began humbly as the band took their places like campers around a fire. This was the same band that was playing earlier as Akron / Family, and now they had become Angels of Light. The set started out smoothly enough ­a singer songwriter strumming his thoughts. I thought to myself this was probably going to be a calm evening of music from an aging rock star shifting gears and exploring his banal side. By his second song, a disturbing chant about young girls, to which Michael began fondling himself and licking the microphone with the most horrifying full-on intent I've ever seen a man deliver on a stage or in a dumpster, it occurred to me that this was not going to be the case. I have never seen Swans live, or Michael Gira, or the likes of anyone like him for that matter. I have also never sat across the glass from a killer in prison, but I think I've seen enough A&E programs about killers to be able to say that the man is dark. Not goth dark; more like lost alone at 4am in the rainy Appalachians and finding a corpse next to a rusted out pickup truck dark. Watching Michael Gira perform is like wandering by yourself into the cold dark basement of the old house that your family just moved into, and seeing a ghostly pale man in a brown shirt sitting next to the well that leads to hell. As the night moved on, however, the drunk hecklers made sure to bring us all right out of the vibe. They began a banter with Michael that clearly made him uncomfortable, but was so over-the-top that the band simply responded by playing Bob Dylan's "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" and a reggae version of a Led Zeppelin number. The band was plenty tired when they were done, and the bar was closing. Michael graciously waited in the back and I got to thank him for fifteen years of Swans music. He has a handshake like a father. I told him to get some sleep, and he said, "I will."