Quasi at Spaceland
Quasi has always been a great live band, but on Friday at Spaceland they were unusually ripping and especially amazing. Maybe it was the rocking new material off the Portland, OR group's latest and hardest album yet, American Gong, which tilts the balance from principal singer Sam (Heatmiser, with Eliott Smith) on keyboard to Sam on guitar. As always, Janet (of Sleater-Kinney fame) is steady and heavy behind the drumkit with cool backing vocals. New to the crew is Joanna (from Stephen Malkmus's Jicks) on bass, who went beyond merely providing rhythm and did some crazy knob tweaking during the jam outs.
The band has always been masterful at playing perfect pop, lyric-based songs that are impossibly verbose yet catchy and bordering on becoming monologues without crossing into theatrics. Imagine the ornate melodies of Wings tempered by the workmanship of Built To Spill. The new album is the straightest rock yet, with at least one tip to rockabilly and sometimes even classic rock with huge, fun riffs. But the band hasn't sacrificed any of its trademark smarts or nuances; "Everything and Nothing at All" can be the most depressing or uplifting song ever, depending on your view.
One funny moment: during the encore, Janet asked for requests and a few guys kept yelling "Seven Years Gone!" She rolled her eyes and said something like, "Are you sure? That's a hard one for me." Of course, the perfect-postured drummer pulled it off with a smile and without a hitch before the band dug into a totally unironic and inspired cover of "I Can See for Miles." So... the previous song was difficult but she had no qualms about channeling Keith Moon? Okay.
Afterward, Sam and Janet went straight to the merch table, where I thanked them for carving out a spot for me on the tight guest list, gave them a copy of the new issue to read in the van (I wish I saw the new songs live before writing the review), and got a vinyl copy of the new album to replace my lame CD-R promo that keeps getting rejected by my car stereo. One cool touch is that each of the LPs was unwrapped and signed by all three band members. Why don't all touring groups take time to do that? Such an easy, small gesture is really cool to fans. The band has loads of polish and supreme chops, but is punk rock and super down-to-earth like that.
Above: Live, a couple years ago. From the third installment of Christoph Green and Brendan Canty's excellent Burn to Shine series. (It also featuring Sleater-Kinney, The Gossip, The Shins, and more.) Below: Gratuitous tree photo taken on the way back home. Yes, The Echo gets more cool shows these days but I still like Spaceland, which isn't much more than a mile walk from home.