Friday, July 23, 2010

Show Review: QUASI @ Johnny Brendas - Philadelphia, PA (4/23/10)

I know this is mega late but I needed to make sure I had this evening on the CugeRock record. The last time a saw Quasi live was…the Sword of God tour…I think. It’s been a long time. I got into Quasi in college. I was always a Sleater Kinney fan so I knew Janet Weiss was a solid drummer but didn’t know much about Sam Coomes or his other bands including Heatmiser which he played with Elliott Smith.

True story – I rode my BMX to a house party at U of D back in 1998 with my Sony sports walkman (yes…walkman). While most guys were trying to get laid and drunk I was only interested in talking music with some friends…and getting drunk. My buddy Karl was a big music freak who worked at the local record shop. His recommendations were always on-point/highly regarded. He had mentioned this band Quasi who he was really into at the moment. The party was blaring Phish or DMB or some other jam-bandy/hippie crap so he brought me upstairs to listen to the Featuring Birds record in which (after hearing the first track) I immediately had him tape for me. For some reason I remember the dubbing process taking forever. Late night I was wasted and popped the tape into my player and listened to Our Happiness is Guaranteed while swerving downhill on main street back to my house. One of the great college/music related memories I have.

The “signature Quasi sound” I fell in love with was the distorted Roxichord keyboard Sam would pound on while Janet kept the beat and backed his vocals. After the Sword of God album…the albums were strictly guitar rock…which…while good…didn’t blow me away hence I lost interest after purchasing Hot Shit and When The Going Gets Dark hoping for at least a few Roxichord tracks…no dice. Apparently Sam would still break out the Roxichord at live shows but couldn’t use it for recordings (which makes zero sense to me). I was just turned off. Then I started reading press leading up to the release of their latest album American Gong.
They added Joanna Bolme from Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks for a fuller sound. I thought "OK, I'll bite". I was pleasantly surprised. The tracks on American Gong are so rocking…so much so I forgot why I fell in love with this band in the first place (Roxichord). Janet is the most insane drummer Ive ever seen…on par with Neil Peart and Travis Barker. I am always mesmerized. Don’t tell my girlfriend but I've always had a crush on Janet. I brushed her arm once while watching an opener at one of their Maxwells shows I saw with my sister…I was creepily jazzed about that interaction (see the “Quasi Tour” from a prior post - )
When I saw they were playing in the spring at Johnny Brenda's in Philly I jumped at the chance. It just so happened to coincide with the same weekend of my Uncle Eds 70th birthday so my sis, her hubby, my girlfriend, cousin and his girlfriend all made plans to go (rollin deep son). Johnny Brenda's is such a small/cool venue that they were right on top of us. It reminded me of when I saw them at Brownies in NYC years ago. They played all of the top tracks off of American Gong like Bye-Bye Blackbird, Repulsion and Little White Horse but then I saw Sam break out the Roxichord and I knew “it was on”. He played Our Happiness is Guaranteed, as well as The Poisoned Well and I’ts Raining (I think). My sister and I were PUMPED. Then they encored with a few covers from The Who! I remember Pictures of Lilly and I Can See For Miles and Miles but I think they played a few more. Such a great show and it was Sam's birthday that night to boot. The openers Let's Wrestle came out and sang him the Happy Birthday song along with the crowd (which was otherwise…pretty dead…which is odd for Philly…NYC yes). Seeing Janet drum in such an intimate venue was amazing. The sound was great despite the odd architecture of the venue. Here are some crude pics of the show.

Here’s where it gets interesting - The bar is right next to the stage and the merch table was across for the bar. We hung out at the bar for a bit after the show to have some Kenzingers (cheap/awesome Philly beer) and eventually Janet and Sam came out to hang at the merch table. Joanna was seen breaking down the set then disappeared....almost like she was their roadie...weird. They were signing LPs, CDs and shirts so I immediate picked up a signed LP. My sis got a cd and Danny got a signed shirt BY JANET EXCLUSIVELY. Living in NYC for so many years I rarely would get star-struck...but when it comes to musicians I love and respect…I turn into a 14yr old….alcohol doesn’t help (ask Danny about the time he hung out with Ted Leo in Boston…I expect a comment to this post DC).
I have a pretty deep history with Quasi and given Sam was good friends with Elliot Smith (who, like Ben Folds, got me through some tough times and is one of the top if not THE top songwriters of all time in my opinion) and Janet is one of the best drummers in history…why the fuck wouldn’t I introduce myself. The the conversation should have went down like this:

Me: “Hi guys. I’m Tom (shaking hands) Great show. I’ve been a huge fan since day one”
Sam & Janet: “Thank you. That’s great. Thanks”

Then I walk back over to the bar....

How it really happened was somewhat different. I introduced myself and (since there was literally no one else at the bar besides us, Sam, Janet and their merch manager) began rambling about my history with them. I spoke about the Quasi tour of 2002….then specifically told them about the time when we saw them at Brownies NYC (during our tour) where I proceeded to steal the setlist from under Sams keyboard after the show (I was drunk…shocker). They both looked bewildered as I described what went down back in '02.

My brother-in-law Rob stood next to me and witnessed the present carnage...then I called my cousin Danny over…"Danny…c’mere…remember that Brownies show?” So I roped him into the embarrassment. I still have that setlist which I placed in a frame (pictured here)
See this prior post which provides a little more detail on "the great heist" -

I didn’t get the vibe that they were pissed I stole the setlist but rather that I was STILL TALKING TO THEM. At one point I turned to Janet and was like “Brownies…you remember Brownies?” She was visibly irritated and replied “Of course I remember Brownies man. C’mon” (exact quote could be exaggerated). The conversation then pretty much came to an awkward end and we walked back to the bar.

All-and-all this was phenomenal show that was intense and brought me back into the Quasi die-hard fan club. Not only did I get to enjoy their music but I also got a chance to share a piece of my life/music history with them via face to face conversation (which is extremely rare). Whether they enjoyed the stories or not (leaning towards not) it was pretty amazing to actually explain to them how they played a significant role in many of my more prominent/positive rock and roll memories. "Boom"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Thermals Cover Green Day @ PMF

(via Pitchfork TV)

So so good. I really hope this becomes a regular cover at their future shows.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Charlatans UK Are Back! Again! In the US!!

The Charlatans UK ( is one of my favorite brit pop bands of all time. Ask any of my friends growing up and they would tell you I was an avid fan through the 90s until present day. I was even a subscriber to their fanzine "109". I still have a copy. Albums like Up To Our Hips or Between 10th and 11th are monumental in sound and songwriting in my opinion. The b-sides I would pick up off singles were just as good. In fact...many of these tracks were much better in respect to the album single they were released with. I remember Repo Records in Ardmore PA would be chock full of these "imports" when I was a teen....ahh those were the days.

Like other bands (Stereolab, Alice In Chains etc) when a key member of the group dies...a good bulk of the fanbase dies with he/she. The sound just doesn't seem the same. This was the case for the Charlatans. Rob Collins, the keyboard player, passed away via car accident in the mid 90s. The sound Rob achieved with the organ/piano/synths had a lot to do with why the Charlatans were so unique in sound in relation to the other brit rock acts around at the time (Blur, Suede etc). That all said I pretty much stopped listening to the Charlatans after Robs death. Telling Stories was the last album I purchased (a great album despite Robs absence). I read reviews from time to time of the more recent "post Rob" albums and they always got satisfactory to poor marks. I should know better than to trust the critics but I just lost interest.

More recently I was watching a program called London Live around xmas which features live British rock acts with accompanying interviews. This particular program happened to feature the Charlatans...present day Charlatans. The tracks they played were mostly from the albums that I knew and they sounded they didn't skip a beat. The band (fronted by Tim Burgess) didn't appear too weathered either. It made me I hope they come to the US and play a few shows. Sure enough last year I thought my dream was realized...then blown to bits when they cancelled. Then I see this latest news bit.

I'm excited for the NYC show but a little disappointed about the Philly show for a few reasons. First, I live in NYC now so I can't make it to a weekday show in Philly (unless it was a Minor Threat reunion or Fugazi show). Secondly, they are playing at Johnny Brendas. Ive seen a few bands at Johnny Brendas. Its a very small venue. Its one of those bitter-sweet deals in that you would love to see them at an intimate venue...but you feel bad that the band couldn't book a larger space. I felt this way when I saw Gene at the Mercury Lounge in NY back in the day or more recently Sloan (which could sell out huge venues in Canada) at the North Star Bar in Philly.

I guess its just a fact that I'm getting older and some of the bands from the 90s/early 00s that I love may have faded from the spotlight a bit. HOWEVER, I would much rather go see one of my favorite bands at the Bowery Ballroom or Johnny Brendas than MSG or Wachovia Center...Weezer, DCFC, Radiohead, Metallica Im looking in your direction.

Anywho, seeing The Charlatans UK at a place like Johnny Brendas would be like having them play in your buddy's basement...anyone who can make that show please do.