I don’t think it would come as a shock to anyone that follows my stories to know that live music is one of my most favorite forms of art. Unlike a painting, a photograph, a written work or even a studio album, it is a form that you really need to experience live to grasp the best understanding of it’s purpose and meaning. From the moment I read of the tour dates, the anticipation of seeing Akron/Family for the first time was really hard to handle. Over the years their music has grown to mean a lot to me and their album work is nothing short of amazing. The single most romantic moment of my entire life thus far happened to the song “I’ll Be on The Water” off of their self-titled first album, and “So It Goes” off their S/T II: The Cosmic Birth And Journey Of Shinju TNT release has somewhat become my unofficial theme song and all of the music in between is constantly on rotation in my daily musical listenings.
The band has been categorized as many things over the course of the ten plus years that they have been together: folk, psych-folk, improvisational, experimental, rock, harmonious, chaotic, incisively vigorous, noise-makers. Their upcoming release, Sub Verses (due to drop April 30th), is no break from their norm. They remain completely unique in their style by blending together multiple textures and styles of music in this exquisite album. As it unfolds, the songs build up to eccentric, energy filled peaks and then turn around to balance things out with light, peaceful ballads.
The show was set to take place at the Spaceland Ballroom in Hamden CT; a new stage to area’s ever-growing music scene. The neighboring space, aptly called The Outer Space, is touched with some New England charm and has a phenomenal selection of bottled and draft beers. It was a perk to be able to walk freely between both rooms without having to go outside. Manic Productions was to thank for this evening of fine music and in support of the main act was Elison Jackson and M. Geddes Gengras--all CT born musicians.
Elison Jackson, formed in Berlin CT, was getting tuned up as I arrived to the venue and once they began… well in short, my heart melted seeing an upright bass on stage and the drummer wearing a necktie; nothing but class! The twangy front man held his guitar high and tight. Like Akron/Family, their sound was a little bit unpredictable: a little bit of Johnny Cash meets rock guitar meets electro-pop meets bluegrass, if that makes any sense. They closed their set with an intense guitar solo by Mike Kusek that left everyone yearning for more.
I speak a lot about experiencing the music and really honing in on what it is all about while you’re there; taking it for what it is and what it means to you. A/F’s own Miles Seaton took stage to introduce the next act. He encouraged the group to really just shut everything down and focus on the music that was about to happen. M. Geddes Gengras, born and raised in Simsbury CT, took stage and thanked everyone for coming. He explained that he was excited about performing in his home-state and that there were many loved ones and family members there to watch. He admitted that he was feeling “weird” and that is performance would be, well, different.
“You can buy some of my albums but they will sound nothing like what I’m about to play. So please take leap of faith with me. This is for a lot of people.”
What went on in that room and in my head over the next thirty plus minutes in part to his music, I will remember for a long while to come. He looped together synthetic sounds while sitting down to an actual piano and he quite literally played his heart out. This highly dramatic piano improv unfolded and merged with what sounded like an airplane flying low overhead and crickets or electric buzz (either/or). It oddly led me to think of my days as a kid spending summers on Cape Cod with my family. I can only imagine where it took everyone else that was in the room. He injected a ton of feelings into his act, hammering the keys like Schroeder from The Peanuts, but wayyyyy better.
Akron/Family began with a four part harmony whilst tapping their instruments. That’s right, I said four part. M. Geddes Gengras was not only opening for them, but also joining their act for the duration of this ongoing tour. I could be mistaken, but believe that the quad performed Sub Verses pretty much from cover to cover (if you will.) They hadn’t even got through their first song before Miles ripped off his flannel shirt and switched from the guitar to the bass. And during the next few hours bounced back and forth (literally) between both instruments and on the stage. Seth (Olinsky) was flailing his arms and his guitar around like one of those “wacky inflatable arm flailing tube men” and at times was screaming into the mic with all that he had. Behind a very vintage and sexy looking drum kit sat Dana (Janssen.) What I didn’t notice until later was that he not only shared my name, but was also wearing an Audubon Bird Call around his neck--which was invented in my hometown of Newingon, CT. Coincidence? I THINK NOT!
What you only get a smidgen from in listening to their albums is the level of intensity that they play with live and in person. Erratic rock jams with light undertones and feelings. And yelling. And so many noises. So much awesome all in one show. I didn’t want it to stop. It was an amazing evening of music all around. Little did I know going in that I would come out with a much better understanding of live music as a whole. It’s like I’ve been saying all along, you have to experience it to truly understand it. And what an experience that was.
I had some time the next afternoon to catch up with M. Geddes Gengras while he was making his way to NY to meet up with the band for their performance at The Bowery Ballroom.
DL: So, If you don’t mind me asking, what brought you to make the music you did last night? (And feel free to be vague.) And also, what brought you to tour with A/F?
MGG: Miles had heard a record I made with The Congo’s, a roots reggae vocal group from the ’70’s that he and I both hold in the highest station, and he caught me playing with another band and I guess he caught the spirit. They got in touch and Miles and I met in person for the first time for coffee. We talked for almost 5 hours. I could tell he was on the correct wavelength and that this could be a great experience so I signed on.
DL: Awesome. When did this all happen?
MGG: End of the year. Think we met in January and I was headed off the next week to play a solo show in NY and then returning to Jamaica for a few weeks. We started working on the music in February.
DL: Well done, my friend. I won’t pry on what brought you to the music you made, but it moved the hell out of me. And I wanted to thank you for it. Last nite was my first A/F show, though I have loved them for a long time. And it was a wonderful addition to have you there. Do you think this will be the only tour with them? Or do you plan to remain in touch for projects down the road?
MGG: Thanks! There are a lot of ghosts in my life and most of them live in Connecticut. I was playing for them. We’ll be touring together for most of this year and beyond that, who knows what the future holds but I really enjoy playing with these guys and hope to do it for a long time.
DL: I hope you do it for a long time to come as well! And if not, I know you will succeed in what you do.
MGG: Absolutely, thanks for writing about the show!
DL: Thanks for giving something to write about!
Akron/Family will spend the rest of the spring and summer touring this country and others. If you know what is good for you and you love some erratic and beautiful rock, you will be sure to check them out! Spring/Summer Tour Dates