Sunday, January 15, 2012

Akron/Family, Bad Weather California - The Drunken Unicorn, Atlanta, January 14, 2012

My first concert of 2012 last night: Akron/Family, with Bad Weather California opening.  Surprisingly, this was not at the redoubtable Earl, but instead at The Drunken Unicorn.

I had been actually thinking about going to the contemptible Masquerade last night to see Louisiana party band Givers.  I had seen them play at Portland's Doug Fir Lounge back during MFNW, and they're the sort of lovable band that on seeing them once, one feels a certain loyalty to support them in the future.  But I really didn't want to suffer through another evening of Masquerade's downstairs room, the aptly named Hell.  As luck would have it, I wound up instead at the Drunken Unicorn hearing Bad Weather California, a band every bit as fun, and one to whom I now feel every bit as loyal, even if they may have scammed me. Explanation follows. 

Bad Weather California very nearly stole last night's show from Akron/Family.  Don't feel bad if you've never heard of them (I hadn't either), but they've been signed to the headliner's Family Tree label and have a new album coming out this spring.

They have an older CD called Young Punks that I bought at the merch table for $10, but when I got home I found out that there was no disc in the packaging - I had bought just the cover and not the content, an oversight I'm willing to dismiss to accident and not a deliberate rip-off.  However, I won't feel guilty when I find the opportunity to download a free copy of the disc off of the internet (guitarist Adam Baumiester, who also played some terrific pedal steel last night, has posted several of the band's songs over on Soundcloud, so I guess I could start there).

Bad Weather California are a fun band.  They're a quartet, but they're touring with an additional sax player who joined them on stage for three or four songs.  They opened their set with what I thought at first was a cover of the 50's surf-rock classic Tequilla, what with its dirty sax and latin-flavored beat, until I recognized a few bars in that it was in fact their own composition, but no less fun than the classic for which I had initially mistaken it.  It didn't take long before everybody was dancing, or at least bobbing along.

Despite their name, the band is actually from Denver (whose Broncos and wing-nut quarterback Tim Tebow were getting thoroughly trounced by the New England Patriots while the band was on stage).  They're fronted by singer/guitarist Chris Adolf, a great, natural entertainer, who grew up in the desert southwest listening to his parents' collection of classic rock albums and assimilating that influence before discovering punk and post-punk sounds years later.  

Their set was upbeat and energetic and had me smiling throughout, and they're a band I would be glad to hear play again. In a perfect world, they would tour with Givers, play at The Earl when in town, and have nothing at all to do with the godforsaken Masquerade.

According to their AllMusic biography, the headliner, Akron/Family, "are one of those exasperatingly unknowable bands."  For starters, their back-slashed name - are they a merger of two bands, one named "Akron" and the other named "Family?"  Or could they not decide on a final name and fused the two top contenders?  Or are they just trying to emphasize that they're not a family of musicians with the last name of "Akron?" (if so then, why not just choose a different name?).  I have no idea, other than it's probably best not to ask too many specific questions and just enjoy the music.

That music has been described (AllMusic again) as including "songs that start in a Beatles-inspired place (and) inevitably erupt into skronk before settling into country sweetness, and folk-raised spirituals (that) dart through Led Zeppelin territory, with '60s rock and general psychedelia also major themes."  For example, their song So It Goes breaks down into three sections, opening with some mysterious sounding chanting over an ominous bass line before a solo guitar riff launches a relatively straightforward section of catchy indie rock.  But the song ends by leaving the guitar riffage behind and settles into a lullaby that combines delicate, Beatles-esque guitar lines with some Eastern-influenced electronic chime effects.

To further compound the mystery, the album from which So It Goes comes, titled S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT (a title that raises more questions in itself) was reportedly written by the band in a cabin on the edge of an active volcano in Japan and recorded in an abandoned train station in Detroit.  It's been rumored that the band practices a made-up religion known as AK (pronounced ack), and confirmed that original member Ryan Vanderhoof departed the group in 2007 to practice Tibetan Buddhism at the Tsogyelgar/Flaming Jewel Dharma Center in Ann Arbor.

But reputation and a colorful back-story only count for so much when a band is on stage.  Last night at the Drunken Unicorn, the band delivered the goods, playing an exuberant and at times downright rowdy set of psychedelic folk-rock or whatever one wants to call their music to a capacity crowd.  

They reached what felt like the climax of their set about half-way through, but rather than end the set there or  let the energy drop, they continued through the second set at a sustained level far more boisterous than what one might have expected (okay, greater than I had expected), each song sounding and feeling like the grand finale closer, but only to be followed by just as energetic a number.  

The range of moods led from the serene, such as a guided meditation when everyone was encouraged to raise one hand, close their eyes, and picture themselves on a beach somewhere, to the exuberant, with the band members jumping into the mosh pit that had developed in front of the stage.  During several of the later songs, various band members of Bad Weather California joined them on stage, either to add a little something to the  music, or in the case of frontman Chris Adolf, to dive in and surf the crowd.  

They ended their set away from the amplifiers and microphones with an acoustic rendition of Love and Space.  A YouTube commenter writes, "I listened to this song with a 55-year old hardcore hippie," honestly, not your humble narrator, "and he was laughing and having the best time ever chanting 'love and space' over and over again. It's a really relaxing mantra actually..."  

Most of the audience, still pumped up from the preceding energetic songs, didn't hear them quietly singing, "Lord, open my heart / Lord, bring me near / Lord, open my heart / Lord, make it into a mirror to reflect the myriad coloured lights of love and space," but as they chanted the "love and space" over and over, the audience realized the band was still on stage and joined in, and soon the relaxing mantra built into a climatic crescendo of drumming and chanting, before the final silence of the evening.

In all, not a bad start to the 2012 concert season at all.  I discovered a new, enjoyable band and unraveled a few of the many mysteries of the enigmatic Akron/Family.  And I was able to track the New England Patriots on my cell phone as they demolished the Denver Broncos 45-10.


J Logan said...
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Matt said...

I thought that show was terrific. Do you happen to know if anyone recorded it? Thanks for the pics. I kept seeing a raised hand with camera snapping in the midst of the melee, Assuming these are those shots, hope your camera is intact!

Shokai said...

Matt -

It WAS a great show. I don't know of a recording of the Drunken Unicorn set, but NYC Taper has posted their January 21 show at

Camera's fine, thanks for asking ;0}