Over the weekend: Akron/Family at the Bluebird

Akron/Family, Laura Goldhamer, Achille Lauro, Fellow Citizens
Friday, Aug. 1, 2009
Bluebird Theater
Better than:
Attending an energetic, long-form tribal jam in the woods.

Akron/Family had no problem translating their musical dynamic to a live setting. The group's extended, hook-based don't require the engineering resources of a studio to remain engaging, and the band's performance on Friday clearly made the point. The band seemed to avoid their earlier, folk-based tunes to delve into the lengthy and the experimental material that marked albums like 2009's Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free. The driving, cyclical and sometimes repetitious sound didn't bore the crowd. Even at the group's most indulgent and free-form, the crowd seemed rapt. Buoyed by the almost palpable enthusiasm of the crowd and the presence of musicians from the opening three bands for the majority of their set, the band seemed to revel in the long-form and experimental.

While there was no impugning the musical skill of the band or their hypnotic effect on the audience, the rambling, roving sound lent for lulls. In multiple forays into distorted guitar solos, punctuated drum beats and multi-minute musical indulgences, the band's set lost me at certain moments. I found myself craving some of the group's more self-contained tunes, and I was left with the overwhelming feeling of attending some sort of extended drum circle.

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The stress on the free-form seemed an overriding theme of the evening, with certain exceptions. Boulder-based Fellow Citizens offered a performance rooted solidly in distorted riffs and multi-sourced vocals, and Laura Goldhamer's quirky, defiant and insistent guitar and vocal style made for an apt introduction to the main act.
In terms of the opening three bands, however, Achille Lauro's set stood out. The outfit's meditative and eloquent guitar lines, deepened by frontman Matt Close's sinuous synth lines and emotive vocals, made for a grounded and consistent set. Guitarist Luke Mossman offered plaintive and expertly plucked lines, a constant boon that helped carry the group's set.

For all the moments of seeming overindulgence, Akron/Family seemed to have the crowd engaged at the very first note. Guitarist Seth Olinsky and bassist Miles Seaton quickly took posts at different instruments, adding novel textures to the extended tunes.
While Olinsky and Seaton's stints on separate instruments was impressive, drummer Dana Janssen's flurried rhythms and powerful phrasing stood out as the most noteworthy element of several songs. In the tunes that went on for six minutes or more, that incorporated input from Goldhamer and other members of the opening acts, Seaton's strong cadences served as a compass for a veering and circuitous musical voyage.
It was an anchor that helped dissipate the feeling of meandering that struck at several points during the end of the headlining set.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I'm a bigger fan of the sound of Akron/Family's 2007 album, Love is Simple, a record that boasted a much more dynamic and self-contained sound.
Random detail: Achille Lauro handed out free CDs to the crowd - but the album contained material that was years old.
By the way: An Akron/Family set involves a wealth of instruments, musicians and different song structures.

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