I have to thank once again the friends at The Line of Best Fit, not only because they always help me to get into guest lists, but to bring me to a gig where I met this amazing band, actually 2 amazing bands.
The Canadians Acorn opened this night on their first Atlantic crossing to play a great London debut. The perfect warm-up for the incredible headliners which followed: The Akron/Family.
The more I hear people complaining about the scarcity of good music around the more I think the source of such a wrong commonplace is due to the fact that there is too much music around and the best, despite internet or because of internet, it is often hidden so well that it is difficult to discover.
I am not as TLOBF “Riches”. They come from Mars and I am a simple guy from Rome, an amazing city indeed but a bit more down to earth.
They have feelers tuned on any alternative sound produced over five continents, they have 24 pair of ears each to listen to several albums simultaneously, they have multiple identities to show up at the same time at several gigs, interviewing artists whilst dealing with their management and browsing record shops to listen to the album those feelers suggest them. This beyond loving their partners, looking after their babies, walking the dog and, of course, working to earn a living because internet music press isn’t a source of income. They are out of any statistics…however, what was my point? Oh yes….that I am into the UK live scene for few years now, I have seen, came across and listened to quite a few bands in recent times and probably I have also heard of the Akron/Family and read that they were playing somewhere but, until this night, I haven’t been enough attentive to be pushed in the direction of their music. In a word, I’m human.
So, when I arrived to the Luminaire, after a never ending journey from Cambridge to North West London, (kind of 60miles in three hours at the terrifying speed of 20 miles a hour) I was exhausted, longing for a fresh beer and hoping to see a great gig to justify my umpteenth experience with the atrocious English railways.
Meanwhile someone else was travelling a longer and much more fascinating journey then mine. The Akron/Family left their Pennsylvania origins few years ago to settle in the heart of the contemporary music scene, New York.
There, they must absorbed tons of music and, soon after, they began recording all their ideas in whichever place they could afford, from their kitchen to the Young God studios.
The legend wants (well, a simple interview to the band I googled somewhere to be fair) that this bizarre “family” was seduced by an early Devendra Banhart show and approached his label, Young God, to propose their music.
It went down great and Akron/Family the self named debut was published in 2005.
I must have been sleeping.
Since then they have kept travelling through a musical cosmos, meeting friends (Angels of light), forgotten heroes (Hamid Drake) and new places.
All these inputs had consequences. The loss of a band member to a Buddhist retreat is one of the downside, three more albums in about 2 years our fortune. Following the debut they released the shared Akron/Family & Angels of Light, Meek Warrior with the free jazz percussionist Hamid Drake and the latest chapter, Love is Simple.
I was still sleeping.
With the music press always frantic for new acts and ready to bin any promising band after the debut without even waiting to listen to the followers it would be impossible for any British band to get to this point. Hopefully they live in the big apple.
Budgets to produce albums are tight for anyone apart Oasis and Coldplay (reading deeper into this tight budget could be a good thing). Very few artists can record a great deal of material, all Americans: Sufjan Steven, Ryan Adams and Bonnie Prince Billy to name some on my mind. It is also through that rarely too many recordings turn out in good music.
When I finally woke up I came across Meek Warrior and Love is Simple. If in the former since the opening track Blessing Force is Hamid Drake that brings the Akron where he knows how to beat exploring the intricate streets that lead folk towards free jazz, Love is Simple is the band’s masterpiece.
The most innovative album to be released since Meddle (am I exaggerating?), it matures the Akron/Family many facets into an indefinable but cohesive piece of work perfectly balanced between pop gems and experimental music. It brings the listener in a magic trip through the history of music sounding at the same time contemporary and honestly linked to the roots.
From the melodic psichedelia of a Beatles song sang by Syd Barret to a forgotten experiments from Frank Zappa; from Appalachian folk to Europe roots, from the freaks of the seventies back to the free jazz of the sixties. The Akron are modern wizards that mix an endless set of colourful and precious stones dug from their own mine together with poisonous herbs harvested from their fields to produce a magic potion that stuns anyone who tastes it.
Don’t be Afraid, You’re Already Dead starts with a flute that celebrate the Beatles meeting with Sgt. Pepper, I’ve Got Some Friends isn’t Facebook friendly but is the sweetest song Zappa didn’t write; Lake Songs… begin with an acoustic guitar to move into a choir creating a dreamlike atmosphere which carries on until you get so close to a “Zen meditation” that the relentless chorus of “there’s so many colors” makes you believe you are about to reach the nirvana.
Through the entire album their spaceship gets noisy and explores angular dimensions showing you unexpected sights but always lands in secure grounds. Phenomenal as the Phenomena song, where the title word is used as a lullaby until a change of time, unheard from the day Ziggy went back to Mars, is the bridge to the most acid guitar solo since Jerry Garcia’s death.
I might sound overenthusiastic but my album of 2008 was recorded in 2007. I woke up! Love is simple.
When the endless journey landed to the Luminaire in London I was so unprepared for such an experience that exiting the venue I stood on the merchandising stall for minutes wondering which CD to grasp to avoid my compulsive impulse to get them all.
Two hours before, these 3 bearded guys entered the stage, hanged their version of the spangled banner with a galaxy replacing the stars, tuned the instruments of a classical rock line-up: a guitar, a bass, a drum and a microphone each and lead the audience into their trip which went far beyond rock music.
Live the song structure is more undefined than the CDs. The improvised jams seem to last longer, adding to the mix the loud-quiet rotation proper of the best post-rock. Each piece can start as a peaceful acoustic folk and fade into a flute melody or can last minutes and culminate on a screaming guitar.
When one of these space trips halts and a three part harmonic singing takes the scene over a delicate arpeggio is the time for the drum to enter abruptly and push the song into experimental territories that are as close to free jazz as Sun Ra was to Saturn.
The Akron/Family musicscapes are unpredictable, the gig goes everywhere driven by someone confident to control where it is heading. They facet music as the mirror ball over their head from a simple spotlight reflects its glitter everywhere.
Sleepy, on the endless combination of train and replacement buses that brought me home somewhere around 2am, I decided that I will spend some time of my life in New York. Not only because there wouldn’t been as many delayed trains, but because it is a city so open-minded to produce the only glue that can mould the most different art forms into beauty.
I must admit one of the reason of my presence at the Luminaire it was because of the Luminaire itself.
Located quite far from the city centre, it didn’t stop Time-Out readers to name it “Live venue of the year” few months after its opening. Music Week’s awarded it recently “the UK’s best live music venue”!
Having seen and photographed on most of London venues, I couldn’t miss the best of the country, could I?
Entering, I must say it is cool. A friendly atmosphere and a cosy feeling surrounds the main area. The stage is small and low the audience has 2 steps that avoid the first rows to be squeezed and allow the people on the back to see. It also has a couple of interesting side spots and the sound is very good throughout.
Photography wise I must admit it is not the best, sorry.
Not having a photo pit instantly means hard work for photographers to get in front and to move along. Once you are there, you are literally 30cm away from the performers, which is nice but it makes difficult to be discreet. Don’t forget your wideangle lens.
The mirror ball is cool for the audience but is the worst think a concert photographer can desire. It gives to most pictures a maculate effect as your event is being seen through a leopard skin. Good for a glam night, probably.
No on prevent you from using a flash, which can help if you like it. I don’t like flash and I avoided its use because a bright light 30cm away from the guitarist face can’t be called a respectful approach to the performer.
My ethic put first the respect of the musicians then any potential stunning shot. Tonight I was stunned by their music.