Quicksand at First Avenue, 1/13/13

Quicksand at First Avenue, 1/13/13
Photo by Carl Skildum

Quicksand with Single Mothers Sunday, January 13, 2013 First Avenue, Minneapolis

Taking the stage to a vaguely John Williams-esque piece of music Sunday night at First Avenue, '90s post-hardcore gods Quicksand kicked their set into high gear almost immediately with a brass-knuckled flurry aimed at getting the crowd moving and banging their heads in time with the grinding, angular riffs. "Omission" started the night off and while it was just a tad shaky for the first half of the song, lead singer Walter Schreifels and company quickly found purchase and did not waver for the rest of the night.

As the set moved along like a bulldozer traveling at highway speeds, crushing everything its path with "Unfulfilled" and "Head to Wall," it became a hit parade of sorts -- though Quicksand never had any huge hits to begin with. Instead, they cultivated an ultra-devoted, almost cultish fanbase in place of large-scale popularity. It was and always has been the beauty of the band, though, the feeling that, even in this day and age of retro-fitted hype being applied to bands that don't always necessarily deserve it (especially bands like Quicksand, who left an ultra-sparse body of released work behind), they have always been the surprise-filled underdogs who are worthy of the accolades.

They were and still are better than their contemporaries, songs like "Fazer," "Too Official" and "Delusional" lending chunks of melody and almost radio-friendly, inventive guitar riffs to post-hardcore's often atonal monotony, with "Delusional" finding the band embracing 21st-century technology on Sunday, as Schreifels bent down during the solo and played with some sort of machine that began emitting bursts of R2-D2 speak. So many of those '90s post-hardcore bands had songs that seemed interchangeable not only within their own work but between different bands as well. Quicksand stood out, and showed that they still stand out, above the din and can still add things to their songs to make them more than the sum of their parts. It was mesmerizing at different turns throughout the 80-minute set.

"Brown Gargantuan" from their underrated sophomore (and, sadly, final) release, Manic Compression finally offered a better mix of their work, as everything up to that point--which was about one-third of the way through the set--had been from their ferocious 1993 debut Slip. Hardly a complaint, mind you, but if there was a weak spot in the set, the setlist arrangement was it, though that being the only minor issue of the night should speak volumes about how well this show unfolded in reality.

As the set started to edge toward the downslope with "Thorn in My Side" and "Backward" another theme that set the band apart from post-hardcore reared it's head: most of these songs, at their centers, were about hope and the general feeling that's it's ok to be different even if being different is sometimes a bit embarrassing (see: "Dine Alone.") The songs are mostly non-confrontational, the band using their brains instead of their fists to get their points across.

They turned in a stellar, venomous version of the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" that was more a re-imagining than a straight-ahead cover (it was also possibly the only time a mosh pit has erupted during that song) and ended the proper set with "Shovel" and "Landmine Spring," which was as anthemic a song they ever recorded. They came out for a quick one-song (and, given the setlists from other cities on this tour, likely unplanned) encore, offering a monstrous version of "Can Opener" leaving only about a half-dozen songs from their released material that remained unheard by the end of the night (and though the set was nothing short of phenomenal, "East 3rd St." and the instrumental "Baphomet" were truly missed.) The band has lost exactly zero in a live setting and these songs have not aged in the least. It was exceptionally fun to watch from start to finish.

Quicksand deserved more attention than they ever received in the '90s but sometimes becoming cult heroes is a little more interesting (if not as lucrative) than having a long string of Top 10 hits. Do it the way Quicksand has and you garner endless respect. Do it the other way and you risk becoming fodder for an endless parade of punch lines from B-list talking heads on a VH1 special. The respect carries more allure each and every time.

Critic's Bias: Covering this show in an objective manner was exceedingly difficult as Quicksand is one of my all-time favorite bands. I'm not sure I fully succeeded in doing so.

The Crowd: Almost exclusively males in their mid-to-late 30s. I counted maybe ten women in the crowd, most of whom, oddly, seemed to be in their 20s.

Overheard In The Crowd: "These aren't the droids you're looking for," during the aforementioned "Delusional" solo.

Random Notebook Dump: Though it was often like taking a punch on the chin, sometimes these songs felt like you were taking part in the knife trick from Aliens: dangerous, but everyone made it out ok.

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