Auditory Adventures

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:14

    “A lot of bands start small and get big,” says Sam Coomes, front man of 15-year-old, Portland, Ore.-based rock trio Quasi. “We started small, got medium and stayed there.”

    On Saturday night, however, the band will have a big responsibility: curating a night of music to take over the entire Knitting Factory before the club’s move to Brooklyn at the end of the month. Coomes and band mates Joanna Bolme and Janet Weiss have booked the club with acts including San Francisco’s Sic Alps, psych-folkster Jeff Lewis, Brooklyn’s abstract sound freaks Soft Circle and local guitar goddess Marnie Stern.

    “Before the venue moves across the river, they’re trying to exploit the space,” explains Coomes. “We were offered the chance to do it and it sounded fun. It doesn’t happen often where you can fill up rooms with the bands of your choice.”

    Besides, with a long history of playing at the club, Quasi was anxious to bid a proper good-bye. For groups that only swing through town every so often, seeing such a venerable club disappear is disheartening and disorienting. “It seems like everyone moves to Brooklyn, so I guess it makes sense,” says Coomes. “I remember playing places like Brownies that were in Lower Manhattan, and it seems like they’re all gone now.”

    So the band is gearing up to give its old stomping ground a proper send off. With its own legion of rabid fans—many of whom flock to see Coomes, a veteran of Heatmiser, and Weiss, former drummer for Sleater-Kinney—Quasi draws crowds thanks to biting political lyrics and a big, warm, keyboard-heavy sound that has begun, with the release of 2006’s When the Going Gets Dark, to include more furious guitar playing and Bolme on the bass.

    Just how far the band ventures in its new direction will be revealed on Saturday when it debuts a set full of new material.

    “We’re in the early stages of working on a new record, and we had the idea this time to play the material as much as we could out in front of audiences before recording,” he says. “A lot of times you come up with new stuff, you record it and then you tour; and halfway through the tour you realize that you’re [finally] playing the songs they way they’re supposed to be played, but it’s too late because you’ve already recorded.”

    While the band will be testing out new songs on its New York crowd, Coomes knows that some folks will stand with their arms crossed until they hear a familiar song, and he’s out to please them too.

    “Now that stuff’s old enough for us that it’s fun to go back and revisit it,” he says of songs from fan favorites like 1998’s Featuring “Birds.” “When I go to a show I like to hear stuff I’ve never heard before from a band, but I think that most people aren’t like that. They want to hear their favorite songs.”

    Having opened for Built to Spill on a recent tour where the band played its classic record Perfect From Now On in its entirety every night, Coomes is intimately familiar with how nostalgia can affect a show. What he’s not so keen on, though, is the idea of seeing a band for old times’ sake instead of to see what’s new and exciting.

    “I think there’s a different type of listener who’s a little bit more adventurous’” he says. “It would be hard for me to play an entire set of just a single album.”

    For the adventurous listener, the Saturday night brouhaha should prove plenty exciting. Whether the draw is watching Marnie Stern fingerfuck her guitar for an entire set or skipping between the rock and folk bands, the show will offer a peek at what Quasi finds exciting, interesting and inspiring; an unusual way to peek behind the curtain at what makes a band tick. Despite the modesty of its front man, not just any band is popular or interesting enough to warrant such curatorial power.

    “For the type of music that we play we’ve done pretty well, but we never crossed over,” says Coomes. “In the wider world we’re still a more or less underground band. In the underground, independent band world, we’ve done well. I’m not dissatisfied with our trajectory.” -- Quasi Dec. 20, Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard St. (betw. B’way & Church St.), 212-219-3132; 8, $20. --