Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gig: Quasi

Quasi (Let's Wrestle)

The Horseshoe. Sunday, April 18, 2010.

"We're Let's Wrestle from London. That's England, not Ontario," said guitarist/vocalist Wesley Patrick Gonzalez as his band took the stage. "Embrace us — we're foreign." With a combination of cheekiness and modestly that the British can pull off more winningly than most, Gonzalez and his crew — recent signees to the venerable Merge label on this side of the pond — launched into a half hour of high-energy scrappy power-punk.

Like many a young British band on the rebound from a U.S. Tour, Let's Wrestle seemed a little relieved to be in Toronto1 and did a good job at getting the early arrivers onside with their musical attack. Energy enough for Mike Lightning to break a string during "I Won't Lie to You"2 causing Joanna Bolme from Quasi to help out with a temporary replacement four-string3 and the band plowed on without losing much momentum. The catchy "Tanks" was followed by the even catchier "We Are The Men You'll Grow to Love Soon", replete with exuberant bah-bah-bahs — sheer bouncy clap-along goodness.

With the crowd roaring in approval after that, Gonzales said, "I think this might be an apt time to sat we don't have any place to stay tonight. So, hopefully, we're gonna stay on one of your's floors. So, we'll be standing over there... just give us an offer..."

"We'll be happy to accept it," Lightning chimed in.

Live, they had a frills-free pop-punk sound, almost like a British take on The Thermals, except with lyrics about the dole and boredom rather than existential crises. On their fine In the Court of the Wrestling Let's album, which I grabbed at the merch table afterwards, the roughness is smoothed out a bit, giving more a rough-around-the edges scrappy-but-poppy vibe. Very appealing. I'm certainly awaiting this bunch's return, hopefully for a headlining show of their own, and hopefully by then Let's Wrestle will be big enough to make couch-surfing unnecessary.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Admittedly, I don't have a long and close history with Quasi, and besides some solid notices for the new album they're touring, I was mostly there for a chance to see kick-ass drummer Janet Weiss (best known as one-third of the much-missed Sleater-Kinney).4 Apparently, I wasn't the only one here out of that devotion, as there were many thirty-something riot grrrls in attendance, a crowd skewing older and more female-heavy that the music alone on offer might have indicated.

Indeed, Quasi's sound is essentially a vaguely frazzled take on classic rock, cut with a minimalist DIY vibe. A music partnership between Weiss and Sam Coomes (guitar/keyboards/most lead vox), the band has been around for quite a while, mostly as a duo, releasing albums since the early '90's. But with the recent addition of Joanna Bolme on bass5 the sound is apparently beefed up — or at any case, the on this night the band was rockin' like a hurricane.

Leading off with "Repulsion"6, the first track from their new American Gong album that segued into "Nothing from Nothing", we got from the outset some raging guitar work from Coomes, peaking early on with some Crazy Horse licks on "Never Coming Back Again"'s slop blues. The setlist gave heed to the new album, but also ranged around quite freely, going back to 98's Featuring "Birds" for "You Fucked Yourself". In fact, the set was quite well structured from an emotional/thematic viewpoint, working up from what felt like a burnt-out stoner's lament, perhaps Coomes' great topic — I have no means no know whether that's in any way autobiographical, though with his bugged-out eyes and occasional propensity to momentarily blank out on stage, its a stance he portrayed well.

Regardless, there was a run of material about the cages we find ourselves (or put ourselves) in. On "Birds", he'd sing, "free as a bird.../ Or is that just a word?/ Oh, to be free/ To free myself from me." He continued in that vein in "Everything and Nothing At All" and it culminated in the ironically-titled "Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler", the downer-est dirge of the lot.

After all of that, the only way to go, mood-wise, was up, with the relatively jaunty "Smile" leading into a few more tear-it-out rockers, such as the suitably unsubtle "Good Time Rock N Roll". Well constructed in tone, even if there's something of a musical disjunction between the guitar-based songs and the ones played by Coomes on his battered keyboard. During a sort of Jerry Lewis free-jazz segue into "The Rhino", Coomes was playing the hell out of his keyb, ironic given the "FRAGILE: MUSICAL INSTRUMENT" stencil on it.

Weiss, meanwhile, was having a good time. And, showing she knows the older crowd the band is mostly appealing to, she deflected one song request (that the band would have to spend some time remembering how to play) by noting, "you guys gotta go to work tomorrow." And when she continued in that vein, saying, "thanks for coming out on a Sunday," a guy somewhere behind me — and someone that I must consider to be a kindred spirit — immediately called back, "thanks for starting promptly!" Oh well, what was it Coomes had sang earlier? "If it's not too loud, then you're not too old."

A lengthy run through "Bye Bye Blackbird" closed out the hour-long set, which was followed by a generous, three song encore, finishing off with a wicked cover of The Who's "Heaven And Hell", a fine way to go out. As a live show, this was vital and pretty convincing.

Check out a couple live tracks from this set here — one each with Coomes on guit and keybs.

1 "We like your country very much. It reminds us of more of home than America. We had fish and chips, it was pretty good, a pint of Guinness. I'm happy."

2 Which, like most of their songs, included some wryly observed lyrics: "No matter how many records I buy/ I can't fill this void" — sentiments familiar to many a shiftless rock'n'roll boy.

3The favour would be returned, with Sam Coomes using Des' guitar during Quasi's set.

4 As a friend said to me in before the gig, if you were starting a band from scratch — maybe in some sort of rock'n'roll fantasy draft — you would be very well-served to have Weiss behind the kit.

5 Bolme and Weiss have also worked together in The Jicks, Stephen Malkmus' backing band.

6 Not a Dinosaur Jr. cover.

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