QUASI'S NEW ONE, When the Going Gets Dark, is a record that comes to the party packing heat, heaviness, and wicked riffs. After the big thunderstorm of "Alice the Goon," track two "The Rhino" starts off as free jazz. Speed piano plunks. Drums freak out. Noise gets frantic and loopy before the song falls carefully into step and a guitar line comes on that's a total acid-rock zap. Half a minute in and it's beating along with blues structure before spacing out freeform again.
Quasi is, of course, Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney and her ex-husband Sam Coomes. Like S-K's The Woods, this is classic rock at its most tight, inspired, and—best of all—non-hippie-ish. Can rock be classic if it doesn't get all '60s or '70s on us? Damn right it can, and through some kind of wild alchemy, Coomes and Weiss have taken pieces of indierock, punk, metal, pop, and hard rock to make something that swaggers like the old warhorses, but doesn't ape any of their chops.
On track three, Coomes is pleading and agonizing and the guitar digs in there—it fuckin' sears—soloing like a rocket ship lifting off. "I Don't Know You Anymore" is so anthemic it feels like the theme to Flash Gordon—without all the campy "Flaaash! ahhh! ahhh!"s. On "Peace and Love," Coomes shouts, "You'll never get what you need/in a world of fear and greed." And employing the ol' deifying capital letter trick, he sings, "There ain't no Hand/there ain't no Eye/just sweet nothing beyond the sky/nothing to lose/nothing to fear/you climb the mountain/it disappears." It's Quasi's "Imagine," and by the time "Peace and Love" turns into its reprise track, "Beyond the Sky," and the organ comes on and Coomes and Weiss are balladeering away, the band hits a new high—and it's miles above anything they've done before. (Above, beyond, high, taking off, rising... "ascension" being a big theme here.)
The rest of the 11-track CD rolls solid without losing much steam. "Presto Change-O" is a three-minute instrumental buildup that corrodes two minutes in and drops into ambient sound, touching down in what seems like a room full of partygoers, all inaudible ghost whispers and lost conversations. "Poverty Sucks"—despite the clunky title—is the type of piano rocker that Ben Folds probably dreams about, but never comes near touching.
"Merry Xmas" is another crap title and another hot-shit freeformer, which shapes up into a great pop song. "Death Culture Blues" is a beefy little guitar jam. "Invisible Star" begins the end of the record in slow-panning guitar with Coomes singing, "Leave it behind/have no fear, no mind/now, there you are/an invisible star." Weiss comes on a few seconds later and they duet sweetly until the song starts to rock, and the rock pushes to the end, lullabying us away with fuzz and distortion and a big blanket of piano notes which drift down like snow, covering us up, and saying goodnight.
Quasi is the only band playing this show. They go on at 6 pm, so get there early. Jackpot will fill up damn quick.