Quasi

Quasi in italian is a word for “almost” I wonder if they know.
Quasi in the music world is an alternative rock band from Portland, Oregon.

A side project for Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss or one of his many main projects for Sam Coomes, on vocal, guitar, keys and everything that may come of use. See how you want, when there are not much money, when you gravitate in the world of independent labels, when contracts do not tie you to endless touring and rigid album release schedule, you can call yourself a free musician. A musician that can do whatever you like.

Quasi have always sounded to me as the quintessential alternative band. I missed their debut in the nineties when their most praised albums came out, but I am in love since I discovered them and much more recently with the release of the wonderful American Gong.
“Better late than never” which would sit well among the titles of a Quasi album.

I stumbled upon Quasi reading something about their history and attracted (as I usually am) by the absence of a bass player. Then from the first Spotify listening to ordering Featuring Birds and Field Studies has been a matter of broadband speed.
I love those two albums, if it makes any sense to your ears they are the meeting point between the best Flaming Lips dreamy sound and American underground scene in the nineties.

This usually triggers my interest and I go back in time to know more about a band.
Quasi are the pioneers of the band format which become so successful nowadays.
How many guitar/drums bands can you count in 1994? Before White Stripes, Black Keys and all the ones who followed a bass guitar was considered essential.

Without the mistery jokes of Jack and Meg White about their relationship, Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss married and divorced but the band kept going unperturbed, which is a very nice thing and a clear win of art over love. Draw your conclusions!

So far the curiosities.

If Quasi with Featuring Birds and Field Studies brought to the music scene a mixture of lo-fi rock mixed with pop-gems and, I need to highlight this, an attention to lyrics often forgotten. Simple but effective, the ones you can identify with. I might be sympathetic with them in this particular period, I don’t know, but I really like their straightforward, sincere, genuine songwriting.

From those two gems of albums to American Gong there are almost ten years and three more LPs that, if are not as good as the first two, still contain much of Quasi sincerity. The Sword of God, Hot Shit! and my favourite pick of the three When the Going gets Dark where there are the first evidence of a shift in the music towards a more direct, stripped down, closeness to guitar driven garage rock.

This culminates on American Gong where the permanent addition of bassist Joanna Bolme, coming from the Steve Malkmus court as Drummer Janet Weiss, matured Quasi into the band they are now.

This was evident at the Pavement‘s curated ATP set where the entire slot was occupied by Sam’s guitar with no songs played at the keys at all.
Mainly they played American Gong tracks, the explosion of fuzz guitar, helped by the very basic drumming of Janet Weiss which is the example that lack of a powerful technique can be a point of strength for a band’s sound. Bye Bye Blackbird was the closing song with one of their jams that doesn’t seem to og anywhere but in the end find a perfect equilibrium in their indecision.

They didn’t play my favourite song of American Gong, Everything and nothing at all, a slow tempo ballad combining a guitar progression with another pearl of that is peaking my most listened Spotify and iPod setlist.

“To be nowhere, to be no one
to have nothing to be free
to feel everything and nothing at all,
to see everything and nothing at all,
to be everything and nothing at all

don’t let them get you down
you’ve got to get control of your own sweet soul
don’t let them get you down”

Bliss, ain’t it? No ok, it’s me.

They didn’t even played California which has the “palm d’or” of most depressing opening ever written but to me always worked as an uplifting song.

“Life is dull, life is grey
At it’s best it’s just OK.
But I’m happy to report
Life is also short”

A good excuse to head back to the evermore posh Hoxton Square in London for their gig at the Bar & Kitchen.

This concert was a complete different affair. Not in terms of quality, both concert were pretty good but they left me with the idea that Quasi are a band best appreciated on record. Apart from the jam intermissions that get them trapped into music journeys on the memory of the psychedelic sound they must have been listening when they were young, their songs have a completeness when played on CD that often is missed on the live versions.

At Hoxton’s gig the keyboards were back and Sam Coomes spent half of the concert on a personal struggle with the electric version of ebony and ivory. And it was very good and helpful to understand the side of the band that was clearly missing at Minehead ATP. It didn’t help me to understand why in Minehead they opted for a guitar only set, though. Nevermind.

Again, they haven’t played my two favourite songs, but played many more including another raucous version of Bye Bye Blackbird which is the only song coming out much better live to become the closing standard of their gig. Then a wonderful version of You fucked Yourself, another example of directness which is clearly helping me to go through a confuse period

“You fucked yourself
You chose your fate
You changed your mind
When it’s too late
Your self-deceit, your worst mistake”

Quasi are a brilliant examples of how music can be just the sheer expression of a need, a passion and nothing else. No need of technique, no need of a light show, no need of violins, horns or a set of 15 different guitars. Just a bunch of good songs and the desire to play them live.

I wanted to buy a T-Shirt, I couldn’t find them at the ATP, I didn’t like them in London. That’s the only thing you guys must work on a bit more. Design a good one and I will have another excuse to come to your show once again.

In the meanwhile if you don’t know them, meet Quasi on [myspace] [website]

Photo tip

Shooting a band twice in a matter of a week. Is that worth?
It wasn’t in this case. To be fair the ATP lighting was much better than the two fixed red spots hanging over the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen stage. So my best shots of the band are from the Minehead 3 songs slot, my praise is to the light engineer of Hoxton Bar & Grill to change the colour of those two spots!

As a plus, London show was open to photographers throughout the entire set so no problem of anxiety due to the approaching of the end of the third songs. Instead a lot of time to concentrate on the different aspects of the set. I am moving more and more to photographing only small concerts in small venues that allow me to shoot as much as the gig lasts. Fed up to beg people for passes in famous venues and famous bands. Hundreds of e-mail to get 5 minutes slot and even the risk they want all my work for free. No thanks, pass.

By the way, yes, if you like a band photographing it again is worth. Different dates and different places give to the pictures a different taste and combining them can enhance the two-dimensional flatness of a single gig set.
I also used this other show to shoot a couple of my rolls of B&W films because film doesn’t of those red lights kept on for the entire set.

Unfortunately I am too busy at the moment so I haven’t bothered to develop them yet. This is why they are not here but I promise as long as I find the will, the time to install the scanner driver once again, and the patience to photoshop them I will add them to this post. So far hope you enjoy this colour versions.

~ by Valerio on June 4, 2010.

One Response to “Quasi”

  1. I love this post, and your photos are amazing. I write a Quasi blog, and was wondering if you would allow me to re-post your photos on my blog? You will absolutely get credit and much thanks for it. Call it free promotion!

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