It is May Day, the annual commemoration of the struggles and gains made by workers and the labour movement. And to help us celebrate the occasion here in the UK, having come all the way from their home in Portland, Oregon, is the underground rock’n’roll power duo, Quasi.
Quasi were last at the Brudenell in December 2013 when they delivered an incendiary performance. Support that night came from Hookworms, a Leeds-based band, then on the edge of potential greatness, but whose creative lifetime was to sadly end rather abruptly some five years later.
A couple of months before that show Quasi had released their ninth album, Mole City. For quite some time it did look as if it were to be the last-ever recorded output from Sam Coomes (vocals and keyboards) and Janet Weiss (vocals and drums). But then in February of this year, after a hiatus of almost a decade, Quasi released their tenth album, Breaking The Balls of History. And now they are out on an 18-date tour of the United Kingdom and Europe to promote that record.
Furthermore, and in forging a connection with their last appearance at this venue, opening tonight for Quasi are Cowtown, purveyors of self-described “dynamic, over-stimulated indie rock” who count amongst their number one Jonathan Nash who played the drums with Hookworms, albeit not on that occasion nearly ten years ago. He was to join Hookworms shortly afterwards but was nonetheless in the audience that night.
In Cowtown, Jonathan Nash plays guitar and sings and he is joined on stage by his regular Cowtown compadres David Michael Shields (drums) and Hilary Knott (keybass/vocals). And they aren’t in any mood to hang around tonight, rattling through no less than ten songs in their allotted half hour. Spiky, angular, arch-pop songs they are, arriving distilled from the pure essence of Pixies, The Breeders, complete with more than a little scent of Russell Mael of Sparks in Nash’s voice. Quick as they are, though, time is Cowtown’s enemy as they have to shear both ’Castleman’ and ‘Emojicore’ off the end of their setlist, opting instead to finish with the “semi-emotional ballad (in relative terms)” of ‘Close To Town’. It all makes for some remarkably good, clean off-kilter fun.
Quasi stack up the numbers too. They must play something like 21 or 22 songs. It is a total that is difficult to determine as they completely dispense with the ancient live music ritual of the encore, choosing instead to cram in a handful of extra tunes before their last song without having to bother wasting time going off the stage and coming back on a few minutes later. They’ve been doing this for nigh on 30 years, after all, and it makes for perfect economic sense. And besides which they have the ideal last song anyway. It is called ‘Riots & Jokes’ and given that May Day is always about halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice, it really sets us up very nicely for the season that lies ahead.
Long before then, though, Quasi have battered us into a hopeless, happy submission with an onslaught on the ears that matches corrosive dynamics with melodic venom and unbridled energy.‘Last Long Laugh’ from the new album lights the touchpaper for the evening, after which a kaleidoscope follows splicing together garage rock, swirling psychedelia, proto-prog, and some highly charged lyrical imagery.
Sam Coomes’ remade and remodelled vintage Rock-Si-Chord keyboard sound is driven along by the relentless gallop of Janet Weiss’s drums. It is little wonder that Uncut magazine recently described her as “perhaps the greatest rock drummer alive”, an accolade even more astounding given that only a few years back a bad automobile accident had resulted in Weiss breaking both legs as well as her collarbone. Quasi’s return to action fuses such resilience with an enduring ability to just keep on producing a whole bunch of killer tunes.
Photos: Simon Godley