Most rock bands are four or five people and there are certainly a handful of power trios that do the job with no problems at all, but when you strip the lineup down to just two people, things get a little more complicated. Sure there are examples like OM, godheadSilo, White Stripes and Black Keys (both of whom would augment their live lineup) and others but these all rely on the guitar. Quasi does things a bit differently, with Sam Coomes organ taking the lead melody duties allowing Janet Weiss’ incredibly inventive drumming to create a powerful rhythm section all by herself. If you don’t think an electric organ and a standard drum kit can knock you on your ass, you’re flat out wrong- Like the British band Hood they spelled it wrong right on Coomes’ keyboard but the band most definitely brings the rock!
Coomes had a few modes of playing; standard vamping, roller rink runs, and some Sun Ra-inspired noise sections where which keys were pressed either by hands or his right knee didn’t really matter. The duo set up on either end of the stage, facing each other and right to the edge so that lucky people could really see what an insanely talented drummer Weiss is. She could do some Ringo Starr beats, inventive fills without being robotic like certain revered drummers and stay in the pocket as needed. Peering out at the crowd at one point she remarked that the high stage made it feel like they were playing a high school talent show. After someone yelled out “You win!” she wryly commented that it wasn’t over yet.
Most keyboard players are content to sit back and let the show on stage happen in front of them but Coomes didn’t have that option so he embraced being a front man while being anchored behind a fairly large instrument. When he wasn’t mashing the keys with various body parts, he was a physical presence that would rise up from the seat and arch his back, letting his powerful voice fill the air. Weiss likewise providing vocals, not the easiest thing in the world when your four limbs are crafting an intricate and constantly shifting pattern. I really didn’t know much about Quasi going in to the show other having seen Weiss with Sleater-Kinney and The Jicks before, and Coomes as part of Jon Spencer’s HITmakers lineup but as Quasi they made at least one new fan tonight.
Tonight was the first show of the three week tour and Bat Fangs is opening all the shows. Also a duo on record, for the live set Betsy and Laura brought along Chrissy Tashjian to join in on bass. Bat Fangs are a fun rock band who straddle all kinds of sounds but ultimately land in their own. At one point Wright remarked that “We don’t know what kind of music this is but we don’t care.” Wright is not afraid to rock out in an unapologetic way, at times echoing strains of Judas Priest and Eddie Van Halen hammer ons as she coaxed riff after riff from her SG. I’d only seen prior playing bass with Ex Hex but damn she can shred. Drummer Laura King held down the rhythm in lockstep, her long hair flailing away in beat with her drumsticks. They survived the snowy drive across the Berkshires to make it on time, and deliveries like that are always a nice gift.
Primarily based in Boston, Massachusetts, Tim Bugbee is no stranger to traveling throughout the country or overseas to capture the best live music photos.