- Ryan Russell
There’s something special about long-running bands from your hometown, bands you see on a regular basis from their inception, through their growing pains, and into their maturity as a well-oiled machine. You see their whole lifetime. It starts with those awkward first few shows where they’re still finding their legs. They’re fresh and still a little rough around the edges. There’s a sense of the unexpected that stems in part from the band being a new creative force, but it’s also largely due to the band still being this unstable, uncertain entity. Then they start to figure things out. They put out a record, do a tour or two, and get a better idea of how their band sounds and operates. They gain a little confidence and act with more precision and knowledge. Then they grow into seasoned veterans, the bands that play together like it’s second nature, like they can read each others’ minds. These bands achieve a level of greatness reserved only for the most stubborn, dedicated, and inspired musicians out there. Akimbo has been around for 14 years, which in punk years makes them ancient, wise men. But on August 11th at the Comet Tavern, the band will finally lay down to rest, ending a long run of devastation and brutality, putting a capstone on a life that’s seen them grow from rambunctious infancy into a ferocious but focused adulthood.
Akimbo started out in 1998 as a frantic, ragged hardcore band, making the kind of racket churned out by labels like Gravity and 31G. Like their peers in Blood Brothers, it was hard to deny their intensity and energy, even if there were moments where it was a little difficult to decipher what exactly was going on. But by the time their first proper full-length, Harshing Your Mellow, came out Akimbo was a much more sophisticated beast. Jared Burke Eglington had entered the fold, replacing the chaotic, scrappy guitar work of their original line-up with his bottom-heavy classic rock-informed style. Bassist/vocalist Jon Weisnewski says, “It wasn't until we really hit our stride with Burke, probably in our early to mid twenties, where we said ‘Fuck it, I love Boston just as much as I love Black Flag and I don't care who knows it.’” Harshing was a remarkably solid debut, but the band grew stronger and more sophisticated over the course of their next two albums, Elephantine and City of the Stars, though they struggled with Burke’s work schedule and the resulting rotating cast of fill-in and replacement guitarists.
In 2006 Akimbo recruited Aaron Walters to permanently tackle the guitar duties. Shortly after, they found a home on Alternative Tentacles—the label operated by punk legend Jello Biafra. He recalls first seeing the band in Pittsburgh: “I was doing a guest spot with the Melvins on a couple of shows before we released the albums we made together. At the last minute Dale Crover had gotten a call from some buddies in a band called Akimbo who were stranded with no show so they got put on the bill. And I saw them and was blown away, like, ‘Where did they come from?’”
Akimbo were past the shakiness and uncertainty of their infancy and adolescence. Despite playing a guitar-centric music style that typically relies on the blunt force of each member locking behind on collective riff, Akimbo found that rare chemistry where every member brought something to the table. Nat Damm was a drummer’s drummer from the get-go, bringing the stomp of John Bonham and the fury of Chuck Biscuits into an unrelenting percussive maelstrom. Jon had both the low-end roar of Joe Preston and the fretboard savvy of Nomeansno’s Rob Wright. Aaron brought both the fury and dimension to compliment his bandmates. “Aaron is a major force in the band,” says Jello, “he has been since the moment he stepped on stage with them. He’s one of the most full-blown, powerful, and interesting guitar players I’ve seen in recent years.” Much like Unwound, Minutemen, or Rush, they mastered the art of the power trio by finding the formula for each member to stand out while still nailing a cohesive sound.
But all things must end, and Akimbo has decided it’s time to call it quits. The reasons given vary. “Speaking personally,” says Weisnewski, “I caught a few lucky breaks in my career… I knew as it was happening that I was not going to be able to maintain the manic tour/album/tour/album schedule we had been thriving on and that something would have to give. We gave one last strong effort on the Jersey Shores USA tour and played to mostly empty rooms for five straight weeks.” Walters recently became a husband and father, but cites “growing more and more disillusioned with heavy music” with his part in the decision. Damm sums it up well: “We got busy with other things. Our jobs, other bands, etc. We toured pretty hard for a few years and got a little tired. Touring paid for itself but didn’t pay our rents while we were gone.”
Any musician knows how difficult it is to balance family, jobs, and finances while maintaining a regular touring schedule. Biafra empathizes with the decision. “We’ve lost several bands prematurely in the last several years, both because of the crappy economy and less people going to shows, more expensive to tour… with Akimbo, I don’t think any band should stay together forever, especially if they don’t want to, if their lives are taking a different turn.” Still, it’s always sad to see a band end, even one with as long and fruitful life as Akimbo. But it’s always better for a band to go out at their peak than to watch them slowly wither and fade. The last show should be a hell of a funeral.
All that’s needed now is an epitaph. Weisnewski has it covered: “I hope people forgive us for our shitty band name.”