Net Nuggets 24: M. Gira & Akron/Family

Today's the day Barack Obama, as we speak, is being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize here in Oslo. Now, I appreciate that when you govern the most powerful nation on the planet you can hardly afford to be a tree-hugging surrender monkey, but you'd be hard pressed not to see, not so much the irony as the logical contradiction in what basically amounts to a warlord being celebrated for contributions to world peace. (Something not lost on the US Commander in Chief himself.) And though Obama is hardly an Alexander the Great or a Napoleon, as 30,000 further troops are sent to Afghanistan and the US military presence in South America and Africa is escalated, I was reminded of some lines out of a song: «please remember as you kill us and cut us down / That time will not wash clean the bloody face of history / And someone will breathe here again and they will hate you for what you leave…»

And so it is to trusty Toilet Guppies faves Michael Gira and Akron/Family that we go, with live-in-studio recordings made on David Garland's show on New York radio station WNYC, Spinning On Air. Akron/Family's set was broadcast on 25 September 2005, Angels Of Light/Michael Gira later that year, on 23 October. For those not familiar with the artists, in 2005 Akron/Family—then a quartet—served as Michael Gira's backing band, together making up the vehicle for Gira's songs, the Angels Of Light. On tour Akron/Family would warm up for, then sit in with the Angels Of Light.

I once had the perverse delight of catching the Akron/Family/Angels Of Light line-up live, with the 50-something rehabilitated hippie and punk M. Gira riding the 20-something, frightened freak folkies like a horseman of the apocalypse. There he was, spitting and stomping, shouting at the bewildered young hippies as they tried to keep up with Gira's exorcism of all kinds of lugubrious little demons. With the band finally hammering out the minimalist riffs and noise with all their energy, Gira still seemed to demand more, always more, until the freaked-out drummer's eyes seemed to protest—impotently—that he was already beating the drums as hard as he could. Even so, Gira still managed to coax more out of him; a second sound that couldn't be heard but was evident to anyone in the room who could see the confused look in the skinsman's eyes, like a man who'd never known what depravity he was actually capable of, scared witless at finally being presented face to face with his own surprising actions and inner, unknown nature.

That's Gira; while Nick Cave always does that same, routine kick at exactly the same mark during «Red Right Hand», every time, like a less nimble and funky James Brown intent on entertaining your ass, Gira doesn't put on a show. He's in it for the catharsis and the transcendence and the spit and the rumble of soundwaves crashing onto your helpless body, losing himself in lust and violence and the Holy Spirit or whatnot, expecting no less of those given the task of backing him up. And so he whips them, not so much into a frenzy as into submission, until they don't dare but deliver what we're all there for, anyway. He rips their youthful souls out of their bodies and makes them dance! Pure S&M.

That's not in evidence on these recordings, which focus more on the country stylings and balladry, like the cover of Bob Dylan's «I Pity the Poor Immigrant» and Gira's maudlin, but warm and uplifting homage to Johnny Cash, «On the Mountain» (a.k.a. «Let It Be You»). «To Live through Someone», too, is sentimental in its daydreaming reference to war «heroes» and the deceased walking on roses up in the skies above, but Gira reins himself in with a wordless twist at the end.

These radio performances certainly are schweet, but the sound quality isn't nearly as good as on the official releases, all of which are available on Young God Records if you like what you hear. And if you do, you'll love those records, so get off yer lazy blog-dwelling, freeloading, file sharing bum and spend a little well worth dough for once, over here. You know it's right.

That said, this sampler is justified by those performances that differ from the originals, most notably Gira's solo renditions of «To Live through Someone» and «Promise of Water», and Akron/Family's «Sorrow Boy». (Not to mention their unknown song, never given an official release.) The early sketch of the Angels Of Light's «Not Here/Not Now» is interesting, as is one of Gira's most enduring and most accomplished songs, «Blind», here given a solo acoustic treatment to replace the original's languid, melancholy flow with a less accessible approach, perhaps more fitting, if you consider the inconsolable words.

Michael Gira & Akron/Family Live on Spinning On Air [.zip]:

1. Awake
2. [Title unknown]
3. Running, Returning
4. We All Will
5. Sorrow Boy

6. Destroyer
7. Come for My Woman
8. I Pity the Poor Immigrant
9. On the Mountain
10. My Sister Said

11. To Live through Someone
12. Promise of Water
13. Not Here/Not Now
14. Blind

Studio versions of 1, 4, 7 & 8 can be found on Akron/Family & Angels Of Light;
studio versions of 3 & 5 on Akron/Family;
studio versions of 6, 9 & 10 and band version of 11 on The Angels of Light Sing «Other People»;
studio band versions of 12 & 13 on We Are Him;
original studio band version of 14 by SWANS on M. Gira's Drainland or SWANS' Various Failures (1988-1992).
Equally recommended is same-period Akron/Family mini-album «Meek Warrior».

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