The Messthetics thoroughly rock the Black Cat on March 18, 2023. (Photo by David LaMason)
Some days you just luck out, and Saturday night at The Black Cat can be counted as an embarrassment of riches with an eclectic mix of some of the best musicians not only under one roof but in one show!
DC’s own The Messthetics co-headlined the evening with Quasi, old friends, as drummer Brendan Canty told the crowd, from Portland, Oregon, in an evening that, as I overheard one person in the crowd say, “All killer and no filler.”
The Messthetics — for the uninitiated — include Canty, Joe Lally on bass, and Anthony Pirog on guitar. The instrumental trio are a powerhouse of rock, groove, and jazz. It’s loud but subtle. Take, for instance, the tune “Pay Dust” — it kicks in right from the start with Lally and Canty having this groove and Pirog’s lyrical melody lines before there’s this distorted freak out just to come back to that motif. A perfect example of those elements — the jazz, the punk — in one composition.
As things started at Black Cat on March 18, Bat Fangs — the DC / North Carolina band of Betsy Wright (guitar / vocals) and Laura King (drums) with Chrissy Tashjian of Thin Lips on bass — hit the ground running with their fun rock ‘n’ roll by way of that infectious Thin Lizzy / Suzie Quatro power pop.
And then it was an incredibly moving set by the James Brandon Lewis Trio. Lewis was masterful in his playing, and, even though I don’t have a lot of experience seeing live jazz, I found myself pulled in by the lyrical way those melody lines had a way of transporting me from this space.
“I can’t thank you enough for coming out tonight. This is an amazing turn out,” Brendan Canty told the crowd. And it seemed like a special night too. Although The Messthetics have been touring the country, it’s playing in their hometown that made this feel more like a big gathering of friends, and you could feel it! From the opening number, “Drop Foot” it was clear this band was tight – each member closely following for the changes – but loose enough to be able to take off and make it exciting. In fact, it was the following number, “Pay Dust” that did the thing – you know, that thing where the improvisation becomes another song within the song or number just to come back to the original motif.
It’s a sight to see a band so connected that they move as a unit. I hadn’t seen The Messthetics before, but with the former Fugazi rhythm section making up two-thirds of the band the collective experience spans the decades. So, it really should be no surprise that this trio knows how to get a place moving. And they moved from one style to the next seamlessly as the jazz of “Pay Dust” jumped to the indie rock down tremolo of “Better Wings.”
Inviting James Brandon Lewis back onto the stage, the now quartet went on to play a funky blend of heavy guitar, soulful brass, and a groove-laden foundation that was fun and playful. Lewis, at times, traded licks with Pirog, back and forth, making me want to hear more of this collaboration (the band did feature on Lewis’ most recent single on Anti Records, “Fear Not”).
Watch The Messthetics perform a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR Music on YouTube:
Rounding out this incredible show was Janet Weiss (drums/vocals) and Sam Coomes (keyboards/vocals) of Quasi whose stellar new album, Breaking the Balls of History, the duo’s tenth LP and the first time I’ve seen them since maybe the last time they toured the East Coast in 2015 or 2016. In between those times, the band had some major things happen — Weiss’ well-publicized hospitalization after a car accident and then there was the Covid-19 pandemic. No small bumps in the road. But seeing this band back on stage, with brilliant new songs (seriously, BTBOH is one of the best albums of 2023) was good for the soul.
Sam’s keyboard — fuzzed out and rocking to and fro — filled the room. And Janet — objectively, one of the best drummers in the world — let loose. You could genuinely feel the joy coming off the stage.
Although this particular tour with The Messthetics has wrapped up on this night, Quasi and Bat Fangs continue their tour, and the James Brandon Lewis Trio hops over to Europe to continue their tour.
The Messthetics setlist included:
Drop Foot / La Lontra
with James Brandon Lewis
Here are more photos of The Messthetics performing at the Black Cat on Saturday, March 18, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.
And here are more photos of Quasi performing at The Black Cat.
And here are more photos of the James Brandon Lewis Trio at The Black Cat.
And here are more photos of Bat Fangs performing at The Black Cat.