Quasi / Talkdemonic
Café du Nord
April 27, 2006

Review by Kevin Seal

For the first night of a two-night run, Quasi came out with guns blazing. They sound freer and louder and weirder than they have in the past, and it works great for them. Sam Coomes, hair and beard grown out to nearly Grizzly Adams proportions, was in fine form, his voice a bit more gravelly but also more impassioned than on their recordings. He bashed out clusters of notes with his palm, making it clear that his keyboard playing is (strangely enough) the punkest element of the band. When I'd seen them last, opening for Elliott Smith and accompanying him during his set at the now-defunct 7th Note, Quasi played as a duo as they are on record. For the Du Nord shows, they triofied by adding Joanna Bolme on bass -- Bolme, of course, helped finish Elliott Smith's posthumous album, and is also in Stephen Malkmus' band, the Jicks.

The new Quasi record, When The Going Gets Dark, is their best piece of work since 1998's masterpiece, Featuring 'Birds.' It's the most diverse set of songs they've ever tackled, yet sounds more focused than their last few records. They whipped out much of this new album for this Thursday night show. A few of these new ones were immediately satisfying and instantly recognizable as bearing classic Coomes melodies -- "Alice the Goon," and the great harmony chorus of "Merry X-Mas" in particular. The centerpiece of When The Going Gets Dark is its title track, for which Coomes switched to slide guitar and Janet Weiss sang whole bridges on her own.

This will probably be no surprise to read, but Janet Weiss was amazing. She's one of the strongest drummers in rock, indie or mainstream, and what I loved most about her performance is how distinctive her style is becoming. The way she answers the vocals with fills through the verse (ala Keith Moon but entirely in her own language), and the way she sets up those 3-3-2 patterns on snare... she's one of the only drummers I can think of that, if you took away the rest of the music and just played the drum part, I'd be able to say "that's Janet Weiss playing." She's refined and defined her own drumming voice, and keeps getting better.

I didn't show up in time for Talkdemonic, partly because I'd just seen them open for the National at the Independent four weeks earlier. At that Noisepop show, I hadn't been all that into their set. They played along with a backing track, which took me out of their performance a bit. Given that Talkdemonic is an instrumental duo -- cello and drums -- the presence of pre-recorded tracks subtracted from the spontaneity and fire of their playing. Drummer Kevin O'Connor is a really talented drummer, but I wish he'd been triggering samples rather than following a click track. Ah well.

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