Quasi Debut Songs From Field Studies At Northwest Shows

Indie-rock duo, featuring Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss, a study in contrasts onstage.

SEATTLE — When Quasi frontman Sam Coomes sang, "I feel much better when I'm under a cloud" during a show here Saturday, he could just as well have been commenting on his state of mind that evening.

The song, "Under a Cloud," from the Portland, Ore., duo's forthcoming album Field Studies, seemed to refer to the thunderstorms that hovered over the Pacific Northwest, an unusual occurrence in this part of the country.

Fresh from playing a hometown show Friday night in Portland's Crystal Ballroom, keyboarist/guitarist Coomes and drummer Janet Weiss arrived in the trendy Belltown district to face a sellout crowd at the Crocodile Cafe. The night sky flashed with lightning.

While nature provided the electricity outdoors, Quasi did the same inside the small, steamy club.

Their show was a study in contrasts. The lanky, melancholy Coomes commanded the keyboards while, across the stage, the petite, vivacious Weiss pummeled a drum kit. Their infectious pop melodies belied lyrics of lost love, loneliness and existential angst, and their distinctive sound — a harsh, fuzzed-out organ driven by rock-steady beats — contrasted with pitch-perfect harmonies.

Coomes and Weiss, who hadn't performed in Seattle in nearly a year, played several songs off Field Studies, the eagerly anticipated follow-up to the critically acclaimed Featuring "Birds" (1998). It's due Sept. 7 on the Seattle label Up Records.

The last time they came to town, Quasi opened for singer/songwriter Elliott Smith and served as his backing band. Smith plays bass on several songs on Field Studies and will play bass with Quasi on a U.S. tour that begins in October, according to Quasi publicist Julie Butterfield. But Smith was unable to join the band for the two weekend shows, Butterfield said.

The first song Quasi did from their new album was "Under a Cloud," a tune with a bouncy groove that recalled Electric Light Orchestra, but with a gloomy refrain.

A few songs into the set, Weiss, who is also punk trio Sleater-Kinney's drummer, teased the crowd for being sedate. "The crowd in Portland was wild," she said, immediately enlivening the Seattle audience.

"It's OK to embarrass yourselves," she added. "I know we're going to." And so they did. While playing some of the newer material such as "The Skeleton" and "Empty Word," they occasionally mashed chords and missed beats.

Fans didn't seem to mind. "They always put on a good show — even when they mess up," said Jacob McMurray, 27, of Seattle.

Quasi dedicated "Smile," another Field Studies song, to Phil Ek, who produced the track. (Ek, who recently produced Built to Spill's Keep It Like a Secret, shared production responsibilities on Field Studies with Larry Crane.) "Smile" is a feel-good anthem for losers that features Coomes singing, "No one seems to care, that you never got your share/ Who said life was fair/ So smile, it's not that bad."

Another highlight from the new album was "Two by Two," written by Weiss. She was mesmerizing to watch in a small club. Dressed in black and playing barefoot, Weiss sang the bittersweet "Two by Two" while Coomes accompanied her on guitar.

For an encore, Coomes and Weiss played a crowd favorite, the title track from Quasi's album, R&B Transmogrification (RealAudio excerpt). For this instrumental, Coomes played his Roxichord — a vintage electronic organ — with an elbow, a knee and his face. He eventually rolled on top the organ as the crowd cheered him on.

Quasi ended the evening with a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black."

"Their version of 'Paint It Black' kicked ass!" McMurray said, adding, "I really liked the new songs. I'm really looking forward to the new album."

Quasi have a few shows scheduled in Britain. Then, they return to the U.S. for the CMJ Musicfest in New York the week after Field Studies is released.