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 clubs 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 Franciscos Sic Alps, psych-folkster Jeff Lewis, Brooklyns abstract sound freaks Soft Circle and local guitar goddess Marnie Stern.
Before the venue moves across the river, theyre trying to exploit the space, explains Coomes. We were offered the chance to do it and it sounded fun. It doesnt 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 theyre 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 fansmany of whom flock to see Coomes, a veteran of Heatmiser, and Weiss, former drummer for Sleater-KinneyQuasi draws crowds thanks to biting political lyrics and a big, warm, keyboard-heavy sound that has begun, with the release of 2006s 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.
Were 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 youre [finally] playing the songs they way theyre supposed to be played, but its too late because youve 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 hes out to please them too.
Now that stuffs old enough for us that its fun to go back and revisit it, he says of songs from fan favorites like 1998s Featuring Birds. When I go to a show I like to hear stuff Ive never heard before from a band, but I think that most people arent 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 hes not so keen on, though, is the idea of seeing a band for old times sake instead of to see whats new and exciting.
I think theres a different type of listener whos 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 weve done pretty well, but we never crossed over, says Coomes. In the wider world were still a more or less underground band. In the underground, independent band world, weve done well. Im not dissatisfied with our trajectory. -- Quasi Dec. 20, Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard St. (betw. Bway & Church St.), 212-219-3132; 8, $20. --