Saturday, December 10, 2005

Akron/Family at Cafe Iota, Arlington, VA (DC) Dec. 8th

Among Pentecostal Christians, a sure sign of baptism by the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. A friend of mine who spoke in tongues at the height of her belief was so freaked out by it that she turned into a drinking, pot-smoking, fornicating atheist within weeks of the event. Based on her story, baptism in the spirit was not a mellow buzz. After seeing their show at Café Iota in Arlington, VA, I am convinced that Akron/Family are the Pentecostals of Indie Rock – distinctly American, a little bit crazy and baptized by powerful spirits when they perform. Watching them, you wonder a little if the band is comfortable with the power of that baptism or if it scares them a little.

My friends and I missed the opening act while we ate in the café. We walked through to the performance area to find it slightly less than half full. Since Iota is already a small venue, that meant there were only four or five dozen people in the audience. Looking out at their small crowd, the band talked, made strange noises into throat microphones and played with plush birds that play back the birds’ songs. After a couple of minutes of this, the band started off with a wave of noise that eventually sprouted into a song. They then broke into an odd combination of a Monty Python routine and equipment fiddling that lasted for a number minutes. They then played their next song.

Throughout the night, the band was quite fond of their between song hijinks – shedding shirts, donning/removing bandanas and swinging from the rafters by their arms. At one point, Ryan asked the audience if anyone was bored and someone by the bar sheepishly raised a hand. This provoked the band into further discussion of disrobing – often with several members talking simultaneously. They also enjoyed referring to Washington as Baltimore and using the word “y’all” to their own amusement. These prolonged breaks probably dragged out what would have been a little over an hour of music to an hour and a half long show.

Did the band’s shenanigans take away from the show? Yes, a little. Did the ecstatic music they made for the rest of the night overshadow their antics? Absolutely.

The nervous energy of their banter crept into their performances – they swayed back on their chairs occasionally leaping out of them to dance on the stage or in the midst of the audience. However, Akron/Family retained control of their energy when it was channeled through their instruments and voices. They went from an ear-shredding wail of guitar noise of one song to the quiet acoustic whisper of Afford with bird chirps from their plush toys. During Moment, they performed a precise turn from a wailing psychedelic chorus to dueling prog-rock guitars then another turn to CSNY harmonies to end the song. For every song, they seemed capable of dashing towards a precipice only to make an abrupt turn and run skipping along the edges of the cliff.

As much as Akron/Family’s hijinks may have annoyed the audience, the band seemed more than capable of winning back that love with each song. Couples hugged each other while the band played Running, Returning. Under Ryan’s urging, the audience sang along and clapped to Future Myth. When the band jumped into the audience with an acoustic guitar to play a song to a friend, they quickly drew the crowd into their chant of “love and space”. On the next to last song, I’ll Be On The Water, they charmed the audience into doing the “wave” during the entire song. So instead of the organ that accompanied the recorded version, the audience made a shushing noise as they threw up their hands.

Akron/Family is on my list of favorite new bands this year. Overall, I am delighted to have seen them in such a small venue with a crowd that received them so warmly.

I’d also like to thank the band (I think it was Dana) who let my friend take pictures of their plush birds.

Lastly, hats off to the Café Iota for giving us ideas for reusing bad CDs. To the left and right of the stage were lit Christmas trees with shiny CDs as ornaments.