It was cold, rainy, and a Wednesday when I strolled into my favorite small venue in Portland and I was expecting a sparsely filled room. But who am I fooling; cold, rainy Wednesdays are Portland's M.O. and Akron/Family are the definitive model of this town's favorite music -- hip, odd, scruffy, and leaning towards the hippie side of things. It was thusly quite packed for the openers, Avi Buffalo, who were doing a solid job of holding the crowd with their slightly askew pop-rock -- they reminded me of Weezer if Rivers Cuomo didn't give half a fuck about what people thought of him. They also have a bassist who looks and acts like Crispin Glover, but can hold down a mean low end; so obviously I'm on their team.
It had been a while since I had last seen Akron/Family and I'm always a bit confused on who the actual full-time members of the band are. This time I recognized the core trio, but was also pleasantly surprised to see Father Guido Sarducci's nephew playing an array of synthesizers, The abrasive nature of most of his synths meant that the cycling dynamics I had previously associated with the band were traded in for a much steadier display of rock force, and the two young girls in patchworks next to me got frightened away after two songs. At times I felt like this is what Fugazi would have sounded like if they were playing the Fillmore on a Sunday afternoon in 1967 -- brutally psychedelic.
Despite the aggressive nature of the two-hour set, the crowd remained relatively passive. Several times bassist Miles Seaton tried to arouse more movement in the room, but it was to no avail -- I guess sometimes one in the morning on a cold, rainy Wednesday is still numbing no matter where you are. Again, I thought the attentive stillness would lead into a display of more gentle dynamics from the band, but it remained a fairly steady assault throughout the night. The one time when it did drop to a delicate quiver the dude next to me tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hello -- how are you?" I replied: "Why I'm just fine, and yourself?" "Oh I'm great. I just felt like this was really a moment and I should acknowledge it with someone." And I will hand it to Akron/Family; no other band out there is so naturally apt at creating audience harmony. In front of me stood a man sporting a pink, pin-striped shirt and jeans so tight his testicles must have been crying, and he seemed to be having a lovely time with the dude next to him rocking a faded purple baja.
The majority of the set was focused on tunes off the newest album, and despite some boisterous cries for "Ed is a Portal" from several folks in the crowd there was only one song all night that both I and the rest of the room seemed familiar with. You know… one of those Akron tunes where they play really loud and then break down into a chant that everybody sings along with and then it explodes back in on itself -- one of those guys. Despite a somewhat redundant flow of song selection, Seth Olinsky was on a constant exploration of his electric guitar's potential and I gained a new found respect for his touch. But overall it was the least compelling performance I had ever seen the band put on, yet as a testament to their power it was still far more exciting most bands are on their best nights. You're hard-pressed to find raw energy like this, and it drew me to have a flash halfway through the gig where I imagined the band as being ripped out of the pages of a Tom Robbins novel. Most importantly though, I left this show feeling like the band are collectively even more of a mysterious entity than I had thought before, and that's why I can't wait to see them again.