"Carry on like before / And don't listen to me anymore / Don't believe a word I sing / Because it's only a song and it don't mean a thing," sings Quasi singer, songwriter, and keyboardist Sam Coomes on "The Golden Egg," from the band's new Field Studies (Up). But to paraphrase Elvis Costello, when Coomes says he's lying he might be lying, or, as Lou Barlow might put it, he's got a license to confuse. Coomes is running an emotional shell game, and he's not stopping until even he's not sure what he wants. Are we supposed to take pity and cuddle him when he sings, "How many hours can a minute hold? / It's no wonder I'm a thousand years old" (from "Me & My Head") or blow out of the room in a self-righteous fury at his pathetic notion of flattery: "You turn me on / And it's hard to turn me on" (from "It's Hard to Turn Me On," from 1998's Featuring "Birds")? He makes his poor hyperconscious creations sing their cynical sagas with Beatlesesque grace over charmingly cheesy keyboard riffs, in the deadpan tone he probably arrived at after trying everything else, with a disheveled charisma he can't decide whether to embrace or deny. And then, near the end of the record, just to throw us off the scent, he tosses in "Smile," a virtual anthem to buckling down and sucking it up: "Others have it worse / So smile--it's not so bad." As I suspect is the case with many Quasi fans, I identify so strongly with Coomes that I have to keep him at arm's length: there are times when his songs remind me too much of my own bad relationships, bad jobs, and bad moods. Happily, his ex-wife and sole full-time bandmate, drummer Janet Weiss--who also holds Sleater-Kinney together--lightens the load a little, contributing empathetic backup vocals and making sure the songs shuffle, roll, and rock precisely as much as they need to. Sunday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. MICHAELANGELO MATOS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Clark.