Akron/Family | Live Review

The Fulcrum Magazine Ottawa, Canada | Travis Boisvenue

All in the Akron/Family

October 06

Akron/Family played at the First Baptist Church on Friday, Oct. 6, 2006. All nine million fans loved it. Just look at them, throwing up their hands in rapture. 
Photos by Jason Chiu.

AKRON/FAMILY DEMONSTRATED their dominance over the format of live rock music on Oct. 6, and First Baptist church proved itself to be the most relevant music venue in Ottawa.

The band showed up for their soundcheck nearly two hours late, citing construction and traffic as their alibi. The band was surprisingly friendly and apologetic for four guys who just drove six hours in a cramped van.  All was  forgiven, and the Fulcrum crew helped them carry their equipment into the church. 

Bassist Miles Seaton walked into the church and marveled at the stained glass  windows, saying, "Wow! Are those space scenes?" The bands lyrics focus on God, space, and love. The cosmic imagery on the church windows was to be the first of many idiosyncrasies that night.

The four members of Akron/Family started their performance by sitting on the stairs of the altar. They encouraged people to sit on the carpet with them as they led us in a steady chant of "love and space". Mass hand clapping was added, and the band members each took a turn singing a hymn-like verse over the communal singing. The song reached a peak, and the singing from the band and audience faded away as if on cue‹a kind of communal entertainment that the band continued throughout their entire set.

During the performance, there were impromptu joke sessions, altar flowers being paraded high in the air, and a mysterious fibre optic light. The light defied logic by making dolphin-like noises, and it cracked up the band and audience when it interrupted songs (or, at times, seemed to be singing along). Guitarist Ryan Vanderhoof poked his microphone into the light, and told the giggling audience, "Shhh, listen to the colours! No, seriously."

Akron/Family songs are catalogues of music history: rock, bluegrass, gospel, free jazz, tribal, and even some programmed hip hop beats courtesy of a past-its-prime Casio keyboard. "[Young Gods label owner and collaborator] Michael Gira told us to try this keyboard, and it changed our lives," claimed Seaton.

And it's no wonder. Akron/Family constantly takes the outdated and makes it relevant again. The band reminds audiences why gospel music was such a valuable form of expression in the 20s and 30s. The word of God used to inspire some seriously passionate music. Akron/Family sing about the Lord without preaching, and probably inspire more passion in their audience than a preacher does during an average sermon.

During the final song of their encore (what the band called their "secret songs"), the band had almost every instrument performing, every member singing, audience members playing with them on the altar, and the audience dancing and clapping. The intense wall of noise it created was more powerful than a rock concert because of its sense of religiousness, and more powerful than the average sermon because of its sense of rock and roll.

The venue certainly had a lot to do with the feeling in the air. The band was a perfect fit to it. First Baptist Church has proved itself as one of the most valuable new venues in Ottawa. The church enforces a sense of formality you wouldn't normally see at a rock show, and it lends an air of universal importance to the artists that play in it. If organizers continue to select appropriate artists, the church is sure to get the credit it deserves. Akron/Family seem to love  Canada‹they wrote their newest album here and recorded sections of it with Broken Social Scene. So keep an eye out for their next stop in Ottawa to see why everyone else is converting.