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We’re a happy family: (l-r) Seaton and Janssen of Akron/Family.

Worth the Wait
By John Brodeur

Akron/Family

Fuze Box, July 11

It’s about 20 minutes to 2—AM. On a Monday. Late. But it doesn’t feel that way, not after what just went down inside the club. The music fans—the ones who came to get their heads transformed; the ones who, with patience, got what they were looking for—are beginning to file out of the old White Tower, the last notes of Akron/Family’s fine set having dissipated only moments ago. Try finding a complaint around here right now. It just won’t happen.

On the self-titled record by the peculiarly named Brooklyn quartet, the spirits of Nick Drake and Syd Barrett inhabit moderners like Idaho and the Flaming Lips. Medicine-mouthed folk tunes are interrupted by white noise and synthesizer bleats; really well-miked wind chimes trample over spacey sound effects and slo-mo jams. It’s among the more promising recordings released this year, but would their live set be worth waiting for through a multiband endurance test on a Monday night?

The run-up made that a tough call. The noodlescapes of Matt Valentine, Erika Elder and Samara Lubelski meandered on and on under a din of air-conditioner noise and audience chatter. Lincoln Money Shot (now with bass clarinet!) juxtaposed the quiet with brief, brain-rattling sets before and after the trio. Sir Richard Bishop followed with another lengthy set, hammering away at his nylon-string guitar like a man unhinged. He swayed wildly, looking like a rabid Bob Ross, digging into his tunes with a sinister style that Akron/Family bassist Ryan Vanderhoof would later call “face-melting.”

And then, finally, the band of the hour. The group revisited only a couple tunes (including “I’ll Be on the Water,” on which guitarist Miles Seaton played a television set) from the record. Instead, they relished in looplike repetitious, lengthy jams (for lack of a better word), bursts of white noise, and lush, barbershop-quartet-like vocal arrangements that were all but nonexistent on record.

An ominous, finger-picked electric guitar pattern; hard, Hendrix-like jamming; pot-fried vocals about some kind of awakening; beautiful four-part harmonies that were face-melting in their own right. That was just the first song. It was like listening to all four sides of the Beatles’ White Album at once. Multifaceted song structures transformed with a natural grace where most acts might have relied on pastiche. The three guitarists (Vanderhoof, Seaton, and Seth Olinsky) rocked back and forth on volume pedals all night, moving their parts in and out of the mix like the prey in a game of Whack-a-Mole, while percussionist Dana Janssen provided a strong guide marker.

They saved the best for (almost) last—1:18 AM by my watch. “You Found What You’re Looking For” was rooted in a quiet, descending guitar pattern, not far removed from Ten Years After’s “I’d Love to Change the World,” then blossomed into a thick wall of harmonious vocals and guitars, like a truck full of pianos landing on a church choir. Consider my face melted.

Nick Carpenter of Lincoln Money Shot deserves special mention for putting the whole show together. It’s a great thing when a guy can hear a record he likes, invite the band to play in his town, and actually make it happen—with visible success, no less.

The Beautiful Sea

The Sounds of Science: Yo La Tengo

MASS MoCA, July 9

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, one of the top draws is an exhibit called Jellies: Living Art, wherein visitors walk through darkened rooms staring hypnotically at tanks illuminated by the transparent bodies of jellyfish. It’s a serene yet surreal experience, as the pulsating creatures seem alien and mysterious to people who have never seen the exotic-looking beings at close range. The beauty of the exhibit is the recognition that undersea life, with all of its various shapes and fluidity of motion, has great artistic appeal.

Now add music to a surreal undersea vision and you may really be on to something. At MASS MoCA on Saturday night, long-running indie rock band Yo La Tengo performed an original score, The Sounds of Science, to accompany the short films of French filmmaker Jean Painlevé. Painlevé pioneered the technique of underwater cinematography, directing more than 200 short documentary films about undersea creatures during his lifetime. The films shown at MASS MoCA, shot from 1927 to 1978, ranged from dusty black-and-white footage of moplike amoebas to yellow-burnished film of sea urchins with fluttering attachments. As the film captured feats of strength by the sea urchin’s poisonous suction-cup spines, Yo La Tengo’s distinctive melodic drone became forceful in a flurry of drumbeats and creeping organ, before relaxing into a dreamy mood piece that corresponded with the billowing, serpent-like sea-urchin spines.

Yo La Tengo first performed alongside Painlevé’s work in 2001, after the band were commissioned by the San Francisco International Film Festival to create an original live score for a film of their choice. The Sounds of Science has been performed only a few times since then, and accordingly the MASS MoCA show was sold out. It wasn’t hard to imagine why Yo La Tengo first became enamored with the director’s work. Painlevé meticulously captured his subjects engaged in biological processes, such as reproduction, with an approach that was both scientific and artistic.

Painlevé also tended to anthropomorphize his subjects with less-than-scientific statements that could be comic or poetic. In the Seahorse, Painlevé’s narration (captioned on the screen) enthused about the “charming ballets” of sea-horse fertilization and about the sea horse’s pouty mouth that lends it “an embarrassed air.” As the band approximated an undersea gurgling sound on one organ while using another organ to delicately accompany the flight of the sea horse, Painlevé’s sympathetic captions described the discomfort of the male sea horse as he convulsed out tiny seahorses in the contractions of birth. (Did any other woman in the audience find a perverse enjoyment in watching the male sea horse struggle through childbirth?) Later, an Ira Kaplan guitar squall accompanied the furious breeding tussle of a pair of octopi, and a thundering Georgia Hubley drumbeat matched the movements of a shrimp shedding its shell.

—Kirsten Ferguson

A Fitting Tribute (Band)

The Fab Faux

The Egg, Sunday July 10

A study done by George Wash- ington University in 1995 concluded that since the fourth month of 1964, at any given moment, continuously for 24 hours a day, there’s been a song by the Beatles in play somewhere on Earth.

Actually, I made that up. But it sounds true because it could be. Their couple- hundred songs exploded forth in a relatively short span of time—less than a decade—and have been woven into the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Even for those who weren’t fans, the ubiquitous coverage that the Beatles achieved made them an inescapable part of the cultural soundtrack.

Most bands covering only Beatles material have become staple acts at country fairs. They tend to be costumed quartets replete with mock-Liverpudlian between-song patter, the overall effect bearing the animated gusto of fried dough (along with the heavy feeling in your stomach afterward, from a diet lacking in musical protein, filled with just empty calories of nostalgia).

Sunday night’s show at the Egg by the Fab Faux succeeded because they’re great players exploring a repertoire that challenges and excites them. Over the course of two sets and a full two hours, they winningly juxtaposed numbers, not for their historical continuity, but to create a bracing flow. “Ticket to Ride” was followed by “The Ballad of John and Yoko”; “Strawberry Fields Forever” was followed by “It Won’t Be Long.” They made clear they’re not a dinner-theater stage act aping their heroes; they’ve got five members, and they were bolstered for some of the songs by a four-piece horn section and a pair of string players. It was thrilling to witness a great, well-known part being carried out with aplomb, such as the piccolo trumpet solo on “Penny Lane.”

The Fab Faux came into being in the late ’90s when Jimmy Vivino, guitarist on Conan O’Brien’s show, and Will Lee, bass player for David Letterman, discovered that their shared love of Beatles music was the perfect way to work together. Tribute bands as a rule tend to base their performances on the live identity of whomever they’re paying tribute to. Not so with the Fab Faux, who fearlessly dove into the finely wrought arrangements born of the recording studio. As tambourines, bongos, cello, trumpet, flutes, megaphones, and sound effects appeared, it wasn’t from a desire to re-create a moment, rather those elements were all parts of the compositional identity and were included as part of the score. The night was also a celebration of the skills of the Beatles’ producer, George Martin, whose background allowed him to introduce harpsichords, string quartets and bongos into their recordings with invention and glee.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Beatles cover band who could not only play “Tomorrow Never Knows,” but also could sail with hypnotic intensity through its swirling currents, and that’s exactly what the Fab Faux did for their encore (followed by “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey”). They showed that there are still surprises to be found in the Beatles catalog, as they celebrated some of the less-played songs and found new and resonant layers in them all.

—David Greenberger

 

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