Akron/Family has undergone myriad changes over the last four years. Anyone who has been familiar with them since the release of their first album in 2005 could perceive it. Kicking off their self-titled album with a plaintive, romantic, freak-folk feel made the band seem like they were following in the footsteps of fellow beards Devendra Bahnhart and Tyler Ramsey. Similarly, their sound was injected with psychedelic chords and lyrical ramblings that recalled late Beatles releases, the more majestic strains of Brian Wilson, and (of course) the Band.
But now that the folkin’ foursome has shifted into a jammin’ threesome, Akron/Family have become more animated than ever. This musical abandon also translates into their live shows, with each band member finding a reason to run into the audience (or invite them onstage) handing out drums and chanting rhythms, as each song blends raucously into the next. Such was their performance at Brooklyn’s Union Pool—a space large enough to hold Akron’s sound without feeling overwhelming, but small enough to stress the personable nature of Akron’s shows. One of the most remarkable things about an Akron/Family show is their willingness to become invested in their audience. Most experimental-indie acts prefer to perform inside a bubble on stage, subsequently alienating their audience from being a part of the music, but Akron/Family wants each and every person in attendance to feel involved and loved as the band jams onstage with their multitude of instruments. They’re kind of hippie like that.
The members of Akron (Seth Olinksy on guitar, Miles Seaton on bass, and Dana Janssen on the drums) began the set with usual good nature, grinning into the audience and opening with “Meek Warrior”, a lilting tune that chugs along on rhythmic tambourine and harmonies that soon melded into “River,” a cut from their latest record, Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free, set to be released in May. As difficult as it was to discern one song from the next, it was evident that Akron’s show was focusing on their newer material, which is of course to be expected in any promotional pre-release performance. As the show went on, the boys focused on more brand new cuts such as the chilled out “The Alps & Their Orange Evergreen” and the hopeful “Sun Will Shine (Warmth of the Sunship Version)”. “Sun will shine / And I won’t hide,” sang the boys in harmony, breathing their undying optimism into the audience’s ears.
As the song ended with trumpeted strains of “Auld Lang Syne”, the boys marched offstage (instruments still in hand), parted the sea of audience members, and walked out into Union Pool’s courtyard, encouraging us to follow. Akron/Family sang three encores in the courtyard, encouraging us to join in as they sang “Woody Guthrie’s America” and “I Know You Rider”, before closing with “Crickets”, a gentle cut off of Love is Simple.
Perhaps the most meaningful aspect of an Akron/Family performance, and what makes them most memorable as a band in general, is the incredible willingness to involve, and be involved. They may have evolved musically (a bit more severely than their current fans could detect), and repeatedly asked for unhinged shows (with less and less of a real set list), but their onstage manor and energy is what gives Akron/Family their power in the industry. Today’s indie-folk collectives are often accused of blending certain rock offshoots together to create “their” sound, and not giving listeners anything new to chew on. True, Akron/Family’s music is infatuated with psychedelic acts of the ‘60s and the proggier acts of the ‘70s, but (thankfully) the band can still enjoy the critical praise found in creating their very own variation of this that draws influence, but succeeds in staying independent. Really, who wouldn’t want to join those guys onstage and bang away on a tambourine?