THIS PAST SEPTEMBER, the Recording Industry Association of America hit an impressive new PR low in the war to obliterate file sharing, wrangling a $2,000 settlement from a 12-year-old girl. The lawsuit only fortified the RIAA's long-standing image as self-righteous, omnipotent Papa Bear eager to bitch-slap the curiosity out of Goldilocks, but I will acquiesce to at least one of their guilt-inducing, Big Brotherly propaganda tent poles: There is something to be said for layout art, especially?ironically enough?layout art as cultural or corporate commentary.
If Akimbo drummer Nat Damm had given me a CD-R copy of his quartet's newest stoner-metal opus, Elephantine (Dopamine), to prepare for this feature, I would've been rocked and roughhoused just as thoroughly, but without the curious cherry on top that is the mandate printed on the store version's inner tray: "Kick out the jams or get off the motherfucking stage." Now that's one hell of a gauntlet. Was I about to talk the rock with macho metal-machine meatheads, or stoic, respectful carriers of the MC5's formidable torch?
"We were listening to NPR, and they were interviewing a bunch of old rock dudes," explains bassist-vocalist Jon Weisnewski, fighting the shivers with his bandmates at a table outside of the Bauhaus coffee shop in Capitol Hill. "Wayne Kramer was complaining about bands these days not bringing the noise, you know, not really doing anything cool and having lame live shows, and [Kramer] said it, those words. We were in the car on the way to practice, and we all screamed at the same time."
"I hate going to shows where you could be listening to the record in your living room and it would be just as exciting," Damm gripes. "'Kick out the melancholy.' Don't fuck around."
"There's bands in the indie realm that definitely kick out the jams," guitarist Burke Eglington suggests. "A band like Mogwai is loud as hell. Built to Spill does it, at least in my book. 'Kick out the jams' separates rock bands from adult contemporary."
Of course, Akimbo are a pretty damn extreme example of the disparity between recorded and live presentations of rock and roll, even if they did get their inner-sleeve slogan from, um, NPR. Onstage, Damm is a Carrot Top-curly percussive flurry, Eglington attacks his sidewinder riffs with the studied intensity of a Slayer player, and the mutton-chopped Weisnewski plays bass pretty much the same way Leatherface plays chain saw. The jury's still out on recently added second guitarist/Teen Cthulhu refugee Dustin Brown, whose previous claim to fame was rooming with the show-goer who convinced Andrew W.K. to pay for his power bill "and a half" after a 2003 Graceland gig. Chances are, Brown literally kicks out some or all of the jams, too, and chances are also?depending on how close you stand to Weisnewski in particular?that you could legitimately fear for your life at an Akimbo show.
"I've hit people [with my bass] before," he admits, laughing. "We played at Graceland a few months ago in the lounge. I had my back to the crowd, but I lifted my bass over my head and I accidentally hit a really good friend of mine, Jeff, who plays bass in New Mexicans, and made his head bleed. Shit happens, but you know. . . . "
"Rock wound." Damm shrugs.
"And it's never intentional, either," Weisnewski adds. "It's just . . . party time."
"We played recently in Santa Cruz and incited the crowd into violence," Eglington recalls. "It was terrible. People were macing each other, and there was a huge fight.
"We weren't feeling it," he deadpans. "We're not exactly Hatebreed."
In the sense that Hatebreed prattles in crazed, bully pulpit moshspeak like "BEHOLDER OF JUSTICE, WHY HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN US?!" no, Akimbo certainly aren't. Weisnewski has a healthy, guttural rock roar, but he's usually referencing mythology or Old Testament imagery. Some Akimbo titles are beyond tongue-in-cheek ("A Far Out Trip Through a Hard Rock Tunnel," "I'm a Fucking Ice Giant") but that doesn't make the frontman's snarled dare of "Sadistic witch, do your worst!" in "Delilah" any less emotive.
"The album's about a lot of stuff that's big and heavy, but there wasn't an intentional theme," Weisnewski asserts. "The reference to Delilah is a metaphor for a lot of [relationship-related] shit that's happened to me in the last year. The 'Ice Giant' is just a big joke. That's a reference to the drummer from [Swedish metal band] the Haunted. He's just like a big, bearded dude. The joke was, how terrifying would it be to be attacked by someone like that who's just screaming as he's fucking punching you?!"
Slightly less terrifying than taking a bass headstock to the dome from a big, mutton-chopped dude, one might think. But not nearly as intellectually stimulating.
Akimbo play the VERA Project with Blood Brothers, Shoplifting, and Kill Me Tomorrow at 8 p.m. Thurs., Feb. 12, and Fri., Feb. 13. $8 with club card/$9.