Quasi's frontman, Sam Coomes
Nobody really likes seeing opening bands. Unless the band in question is someone you already know and/or like, sitting through an opening act is usually something people do to be polite or because they got to the show too early. Openers can be awful, boring or, at worst, awfully boring. In their slot as opener for indie rock heroes Quasi, fellow Portlanders Explode Into Colors could have been just another in that mediocre tradition. Instead, the unassuming trio upstaged Quasi.
Beginning their set on Sunday at the Casbah with a cover of Outkast's "Bombs Over Baghdad," the all-female group impressed the crowd with their rhythmic post-rock. The band employed standard drums, effects-heavy guitar and a cocktail drum kit to create an innovative sound that was at once tribal and post-modern. Maracas, multiple cowbells and expressive rim-sticking gave the percussion its teeth, while the fuzzed-out guitar mauled the crowd. Songs like "Sharpen the Knife," "Wooden Ghost" and "Paper" smoked with danger, and the band's ethereal, reverb-laden vocals lent the music a surreal quality.
Explode Into Colors may have given a great performance, but Quasi were no slouches, either. With his faded tattoos and Castrate the Corporate State" T-shirt, frontman Sam Coomes looked weathered but cool. The band began its set with "Repulsion," the opening track from their new album, American Gong. Quasi stuck close to Gong throughout the set, treating the crowd to album highlights "Little White Horse," "Everything and Nothing at All" and "Rockabilly Party." Coomes' zigzagging lead guitar was tempered by Janet Weiss' assured drumwork and Joanna Bolme's bass, and the trio traversed each tempo and meter change without missing a beat.
Quasi also gave their older material its due, rounding out the set with classics like "Seven Years Gone," "Our Happiness Is Guaranteed" and the slide guitar anthem "Master and Dog". The band's talent was undeniable, but after awhile, the songs' jam-session digressions began to drag. The arena rock interludes were flashy, but their flawless execution was mired by a sense of repetitiveness. Quasi are at their best when Coomes and Weiss are singing -- their harmonies have a forlorn quality that is haunting yet soothing -- but those moments were frustratingly sparse.
The band ended with "Bye Bye Blackbird," a seven-minute epic whose frequent oscillations between the heavy and the melodic perfectly summarized the set. It was a strong finish to a consistent -- if a bit long-winded -- performance, but the crowd's clamoring for the obligatory encore felt forced and polite. In fact, it sounded a lot like the perfunctory applause that opening bands get.