I WAS THERE: Akron/Family Gives self-titled’s Black Heart a Much-Needed Spiritual Awakening At Bowery Ballroom

[Words/Photos by Sean Edgar]

While we’re not exactly ‘religious’, per say, self-titled couldn’t help but succumb to Akron/Family‘s undeniably spiritual performance last night at Bowery Ballroom. Riding high off the recent release of their fourth critically-lauded album, Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free, Pennsylvania’s finest postmodern hippies simply couldn’t keep their positive karma to themselves.

But hey, that’s the way they’ve always been. While the group’s often accused of flying a freak-folk flag (they started off on Michael Gira‘s Young God label, ala Devendra Banhart, before shifting to Dead Oceans for their latest LP), their music involve as much improv as the jam band half of this year’s Bonnaroo bill. Landing somewhere between a drum circle at a Midwestern community college and a classic rock band armed with searing apocalypse now riffs, their set blurred into an epic ebb and flow of quiet moments that swelled into tribal chants. At its loudest, the ballroom floor shook with a frightening elasticity reserved for trampolines and collagen; at its softest, the Fam could have been mistaken for leading a campfire sing-along. By the second song of the set, the cathartic “River,” Core members Seth Olinsky, Miles Seaton and Dana Janssen proved their endurance in the wake of former singer Ryan Vanderhoof’s departure (who heard the call of a Buddhist Dharma Center in the Midwest), sharing vocal duties seamlessly.

As we’ve come to expect from the band’s live shows, the fourth wall was broken when the accompanying brass players, flautist, cellist and main trio marched around the perimeter of the venue before settling in the center of the dance floor for the final song. When they finished at half past midnight, they not only stuck around, but also demanded music and began to dance with the audience right where they had finished. It displayed the type of egoless communalism that will probably ban them to commercial obscurity and cult adoration. But it also makes for one hell of a live show.