How does one even begin to describe Akron/Family? Aaron Kayce at Jambase hints at a close description by saying that Akron/Family is "fifty bands in one." Indeed, their music seems to be influenced by so many genres that it's impossible to put them in any category. In the simplest words, I would say that Akron/Family's music is by and for true music geeks, the ones who get a kick out of testing their music knowledge. Yea, you know who you are.
After hearing so many people personally recommend seeing Akron/Family live, I was too curious to pass up another opportunity to see them. The band's latest album, Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, had been released on the previous day, so they organized an all-ages record release show with special guests that included the eccentric Charlyne Yi and William Parker's Southern Satellite, a modern free jazz ensemble. To be honest, I had heard very little of Akron/Family's music prior to the show. Since I'd been told by my friend Lyanne that the live performance quality generally surpasses that of the recorded songs, I decided to go into the show with a blank slate and no real expectations. Turns out this was the best way to go.
At most shows, the bands usually stand around onstage and play songs that roughly resemble their recorded form. Sound familiar? Well, Akron/Family deviate from this traditional format and use their stage performance as an opportunity to showcase their improvisation skills, as well as their cohesiveness as a performing band. Joined onstage by backing brass, woodwinds, and strings (including some members of Parker's ensemble), Akron/Family preceded to blow my mind, especially when they embarked on extended jam sessions. It's really incredible to experience a band who is able to improv so well with each other that I could have mistaken the long interludes for pre-written, rehearsed music. One of my favorite songs of the night was "Everyone is Guilty," a song that seemed to be constantly evolving with each passing second. With funk guitar riffs, rustic American percussion, tribal-like sing/shout lines, classic rock and metal chords, and even Aaron Copland-inspired instrumentals, it was a song that epitomized Akron/Family's unique sound and dynamic style. Of course, the night would not have been complete without a couple audience sing/snap-a-longs and an ending performance among the crowd of fans.
If you're looking for a traditional concert, then an Akron/Family show is the last place you should find yourself. But, if you're interested in experiencing a one-of-a-kind show that emphasizes the improvisational ideas of free jazz, then they cannot be missed. I admit that I am very unfamiliar with Akron/Family's discography, so I can't comment on how the new material stacks up against the old. But, I've posted a song called "River" from Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free. It's one of the more linear and accessible Akron/Family songs, and it's a good place to start.
Thanks to Kyle and Addison for making me see this band. It was one of the most memorable shows I've ever attended.
River - Akron/Family