Megafaun, Greg Davis, Matt Butcher
Back Booth Orlando, FL • September 11, 2007
Akron/Family’s fans must have thought it serendipitous to be at the September 11th show, on the band’s tour behind their newest disc Love is Simple. The young faces in the audience — a few of which were brightly painted — let Akron/Family’s message of love push away any sadness on this infamous date. If they came for an escape, they got just what the doctor ordered.
First up was local musician Matt Butcher. A smart raconteur backed by handsome country-folk, Butcher’s soulful folk set the template for the evening. Things tipped toward the bizarre when Megafaun mounted their moonshined, Appalachian folk that staggered into Sonic Youth-style outbursts and breakdowns. Sitting cross-legged in front of his laptop, Greg Davis simply made us a deal that he would “play some sounds” for us and he hoped we liked it. He conjured a crackling campfire loop over which he layered live vocal swells and drones.
When Akron/Family finally took the stage, they figuratively (and literally) absorbed the bands before them, including all three members of Megafaun and laptop conductor Greg Davis. It didn’t take long to see why it was necessary to have all hands on deck. Akron/Family veered in and out of Native American-style chants, stupefying Zappa-esque guitar leads, broken funk grooves, baroque Beach Boys harmonies, and straight ahead indie-pop. With a two-drummer set-up, Akron/Family leaned heavily on the percussion, which featured an African djembe and shekere, Moroccan cymbals, sleigh bells and even a gong?
This being the first time I had heard Akron/Family, I was pleasantly surprised to find their music to be a bit weightier than the freak-folk of the oft-compared Devendra Banhart. Though this is a jam band in every sense of the word, the music was explosive. As the wiggly grooves got the audience undulating, lead guitarist Seth Olinsky shot his blistering licks through with a Lynyrd Skynrd swagger.
Listening back to their catalogue, it’s evident that this noisier side of Akron/Family is evolutionary. Without ex-producer Michael Gira’s guiding hand (formerly of the Swans), the band have inverted their formula of quiet folk sprinkled with bursts of chaos. This is both good and bad. Of all the bands Akron/Family absorbed that night, they needed Matt Butcher the most. His lyrical skill would have added structure to the slight, mish-mashed lyrics, and a melodic heart to the sprawling tunes. The title of one of their new tunes shows the band’s split personality: “Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music for Moms.” It started out beautifully, with a springy little guitar riff, booming hand drums, and soft vocals, before erupting into five minutes of atonal squealing.
The pop meltdowns were fun for the first hour and a half, but as their set lurched past the two-hour mark, the constant changes began feeling self-indulgent. I left before Akron/Family finished, not because they weren’t good, but because long ago I’d seen enough to be impressed. Love may be simple, but Akron/Family’s expression of it is quite complex.