If you've been to America, you're likely to have noted the difference between the tangible place and the version that exists in your consciousness, and the space where the two sometimes meet in the middle. Akron/Family are the stuff of weird, rural folk dreams - the beards, the bandanas, the tie-dye stars and stripes, the harmonies and the brotherhood - but thankfully, in the British sweat of the ICA, they occupy a very real space in front of you.
The (now) 3-piece band hail from various parts of rural America, and have just released their fourth studio album. Watching them reminds you of an indie film featuring Will Oldham and verdant landscapes: they inhabit another world, one away from tube trains and office blocks and one filled with big old VWs, guitars and camping trips. An extended blaze of discordant noise signals the beginning of things, followed by the physical entrance of the band in an unaccompanied 3-part harmony. It sets the tone for the democracy of the show - there is no lead singer, and without a discernable hierarchy the audience are pulled right in to the music and ethos too, presumably engendering a rush of resignations from jobs, an up-sticking to the country and the purchase of a tin whistle and a pair of hemp linen trousers.
Akron/Family's twelve-minute recorded tracks of unselfconscious abandon hint at the kind of live show they give - sprawling, celebratory and legitimately self-absorbed. They tread a fine line between engagement and detachment, though the latter is purely from involvement in the music. The self-conscious Brits look on; we are clearly all invited to the party, but not allowed to define it. If there are a few moments that are slightly less than compelling, A/F bring us back - 'are you alright out there?', they shout, before launching into another eclectic rain shower of sound. Unaccompanied bluegrass harmonies are shattered by psych and stoner rock; West African melodies cocooned by pounding drums; tin whistles burst by thundering symbols in ceremonial, tribal flecks of sound.
An Arcade Fire-like explosion of rapture by way of drums and guitar mark a participatory turn of events, as A/F slow down, turn the mic towards the audience and return to the beginning with a good old singalong, as the audience join in to sing 'Last year was a hard year for such a long time; this year's going to be ours'. It's hard to be a shy naysayer in the face of their grins of pure joy, and by the time they burst into the audience for the last song, the cynical Londoners are a clapping, slapping gaggle of participants. We might revel in our reservations, but it's hard to stay detached from such a sweaty, heady display of exaltation.
Image from aboylikeme's photostream under the Creative Common's licence.