Akron/Family @ Bush Hall, London 30.05.11

With its high ceiling, cherubs and chandeliers, Shepherd’s Bush’s Bush Hall is one of the loveliest venues in the capital. The San Francisco psychedelic bands that tonight’s headliners have a certain kinship with first blew people’s minds in similar Art Nouveau ballrooms, so it seems an appropriate setting for Akron/Family to weave their magic.

May 30th, 2011 at Bush Hall, London / By Ben Wood
Akron/Family @ Bush Hall, London 30.05.11 Five albums in, the shapeshifting New York trio have left some of their wilder instrumental flights of fancy behind. They’re still liable to spin off at strange tangents, but this set is more structured than some might expect, anchored in the melody-rich songcraft of their latest album S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT.

Ever keen to subvert expectations, these peace-loving dudes come on to an NWA tape (ace drummer Dana Jenssen sports a T-shirt featuring the gangsta icons). In front of him stand long-haired vocalist/guitarist and main songwriter Seth Olinsky, and superstar bassist Miles Seaton. All three sing, and while years of intensive rehearsal and gigging mean they’re super-tight, their musicianship is always at the service of the songs and the audience. This is no proggy wankfest, it’s a joyous celebration.

Fans of the more imaginative end of the US indie spectrum will find much to love here. Yeasayer-style tropical fantasias, African guitar and Devendra Banhart-style grooves sit alongside moments of hushed, ambient loveliness (‘Island’) and wilder, noisier sections. Tibetan flavours, early 70s hard rock… it would probably be easier to name a style this band can’t play.

Ravey breakdowns, anthemic chanting sections and shoegazey blisspop join the party
as the band commune with the audience. And at various times we chant, clap and even allow ourselves to be tied in tape as Miles jumps offstage and joins the sweaty throng.

New album opener / spiritual parable ‘Silly Bears’ ends the gig on a high, before the boys return for a much-deserved two-song encore. This is one band you have to see live to truly appreciate.