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Published: 2009/04/12
by Randy Ray

Quactus, Goat Head Saloon, Mesa, AZ 4/1

Former New Groove of the Month band, Quactus, hailing from Southern California, returned to Arizona, en route to their first Colorado gigs, and a further foray out on the road that will hopefully lead them to the Midwest, and the Northeast someday soon.
In Mesa, the young, gifted songwriters and improv wizards played a taut two-set gig that was bereft of flab, and focused on tight playing without a lot of meandering adventures. That isnt to say that the band doesnt take risks. Sure they do, just like any burgeoning jamband, and lets make this clear from the opening review gate, Quactus is a jambandfrom their goofy name, sharp wit, and the fact that most of their band sounds like they have practiced since the Renaissance period, and know how to play just about any song you can shout out. Quactus has come even further since the last time I saw them in 2008, and their group confidence supported the music the band was makingjam or otherwise.
Alas, it was a Wednesday night, and the crowd wasnt as large as it would have been on a weekend, but Quactus didnt care, and played their sets with buoyant enthusiasm. The quartet began the first set with a prominent Fluffhead tease that garnered a response that wasnt exactly Hamptonesque, but appreciated nonetheless. In fact, the band led by Gabriel Weiner on lead guitar, Seth Gordon on rhythm guitar and vocals, Greg Zachan on bass and vocals, and Matthew McDuffee on drums, impromptu solos, and witty outbursts, is adept at not only choice song teases, but admirable full-length covers, taboot (taboot). Would I have liked to hear Fluffhead? Well, no, actually, I wouldnt right about now, but to be able to tease a Phish guitar lick or three, and then kick right into a strong original song without losing any pace whatsoever is fairly impressive, just as well.
And thats what Quactus did without a lot of time spent on shenanigans. There is an engaging and warm innocence about their songs, i.e. the opening Alligator>Firefly, which followed the Phish chestnut tease, but some of that feeling may be the fact they when the band isnt trying to bend noodles with some pretty heady improvisation that is both orchestrated and/or off-the-cuff, they can write. And write well. Like I Do has a great, multi-tiered construction, while Van Winkles Dream at the Goat Head Saloona tour-de-force from the first album _ Once upon a pond, a spine_ written by Weineris a mini-masterpiece of nuance and well-crafted virtuosity with a real sense of purpose.
Quactus teased the Grateful Deads opening notes of Dark Star before moving into Them, which had a nice free-form yet structured jam, and melted into a reggae breakdown leading into Roger Waters. Led Zeppelins The Ocean followed, and thankfully, wasnt teased but played all the way through, complete with the prerequisite John Bonham count-off to open the song, uttered with Brit gusto by McDuffee on drums. Three originals closed the first set with rigorous style, reinforcing the notion that these four cats from El Lay could also write rockin tunes that jammed when they werent tune-checking supreme rawk gawd titans: Mine All Mine>Tyson>Esprit D’escalier.
The quartet began the second set where they left off with another series of potent ear candy rockers which eventually led to Poinephobe. This catchy tune, written by Gordon, has a great hook, and some intriguing and rhythmic tempo changes that work quite well while providing a firm foundation for some potential mid-set jamming.
Later, a very sturdy cover of Pink Floyds Have A Cigar came out of left field, and was solid, too, before Quactus bumped it up several notches, hitting the heart of the set with an extended reading of that aforementioned mid-set jamming on The Journey. Written by Weiner, the guitar virtuoso has penned quite an impressive composition, and perhaps more importantly, the band moves through its many passages in an exploratory fashion that is both scenic and momentarily transcendent.
The spirit of Phish made a return to the set, as Quactus teased the opening guitar notes of Sample in a Jar, and that was welcome, youbetcha, before the band effortlessly moved into a long bit of improvisation called Wine. The song also featured former Relix On the Verge and ex-Mojo Farmers percussionist and vocalist, Kevin Gordon, on bongos.
Yes, this was a cool little intersection in our parallel universesOn the Vergers Meet the New Groovers in a battle of energetic percussive jammeryand the set deepened further with a Finally Free sandwich that included a few verses of Rick James Super Freak, and MC Hammers U Cant Touch This, which, granted, are very well-known and over-the-top songs, but somehow the ancient artifacts work within the Free mix.
A brain-melting and metallic Hot Whopper closed the second set, and served as yet another reminder that, yes, Quactus can write some mindblowingly difficult music that is Zappa and Anastasio-family tree-d and great fun to hear, but the quartet also hits their rigorous stride in an ongoing effort to conquer the other areas of the American map with some pretty stellar songs that just plain rock in a very fresh way. Stay tuned.

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