Akron/Family | Live Review

Altercation magazine | Justin Habersaat

All I knew was that the dudes looked kind of like Charles Manson.

April 06

Much has been made of the Akron / Family hipster cult, and their live shows are spoken of in hushed tones at coffee shop open mic nights across the country on a daily basis. While I had heard my share of Akron music, I had yet to find someone who could accurately tell me exactly what the hell to expect at a performance. All I knew was that the dudes looked kind of like Charles Manson, wore a lot of flannel and, most importantly, were the darling sons of Michael Gira's Young God label. Even though I have yet to fully embrace the heralded "freak-folk" scene gracing every independent music magazine's cover these days, Gira's endorsement carries a lot of weight, so off I went with an open mind and curious ear.

The opening slot was filled by labelmates Mi and L'au, a French/Finnish couple that cautiously strum acoustic guitars and sing "gentle" songs.  While I can't condone the drunken lout that shouted "BOOO-RRING!" about halfway through their set (fear not, the guy was practically pummeled to death with insults by irate indie-men and women adorn in sweaters and cat-glasses), I also couldn't help but feel that the guy was vocalizing what everyone else was thinking. Yeah, it was pretty boring. Among the most difficult music to translate to the stage, there's a pretty good reason why folk usually goes best with a rainy day, a cigarette and a living room. After watching for about ten minutes I returned to the bar, biding my time until the main event.

While they physically matched the description in my mind, Akron/Family surprised me with their sense of humor. Cracking jokes and obviously a bit boozed up, the band was less the "serious" musicians I had anticipated and more of a jovial lot. The stools they sat upon raised an immediate red flag in my mind though, as I'm a firm believer that you can't be sitting and rock at the same time; stigma be damned, because Akron broke the mold and floored me. Watching the band instantly made clear why friends had a hard time translating an Akron performance verbally seriously, what the fuck is this? Something new, that's what. When confronted with something this unique, the mind draws a blank. The old comparisons to other bands go out with the bath water, and a head-scratching stupor is all that remains.

The band opened quietly, building a slight Mogwai-eque crescendo that suddenly exploded into a torrential blast of guitar scream and percussion.  Bodies flailed, stools flipped, people nearly dropped their drinks in fright. It was an unexpected attack, gone as quickly as it came, suddenly transformed into an epic four-part harmony. To repeat, seriously, what the fuck is this? Akron/Family provided a music experience that proved quite unique, somehow blending the essence of Crosby, Stills and Nash with the intensity of Sonic Youth. The result was one of the best shows I've witnessed in recent memory. Seriously.