Qwasi Qwa

Shaking Hands With the Governor (self-released)

It might seem strange for an unsigned band to release a live album as its debut, but Qwasi Qwa has played numerous live shows ever since it beat 30 other local high school acts in the 1997 High School Rock Off. Since then, it has shuffled its lineup and performed at industry showcases such as South by Southwest, all the while making regular appearances in Cleveland. Granted, some of the songs on the band's debut, which was recorded at Wilbert's in July 1999, sound rougher than they might have if the group, which includes singer-guitarist Jesse Bryson, keyboardist Pete Breeden, singer-bassist Chuck Andrews, and drummer Gerry McCabe, had used a studio. But in the hands of producer Wally Bryson (Jesse's father and a member of the Raspberries) and engineer Mike Johnson, the former soundman for the TwistOffs, the album captures Qwasi Qwa's enthusiasm for crisp pop harmonies and extended jams.

The album opens with its best song: "Dogs Barking in My Ear," a track which the Brysons wrote together. It has a retro sound characterized by swirling guitars that, along with some rolling piano, build to a climax by the song's end. Other songs aren't as tightly constructed: "I Know" becomes repetitive; "Cursed With a Good Heart," which opens with moody vocals and subdued guitars, finds Bryson contemplating the significance of anonymity, but falls short of the mark; and the epic "Sweet Queen" drags on for over six minutes while sounding like classic rock rehash. Still, the band makes up for its misfires with the jangly "Soul Can't Lie," the groovy, organ-driven "Selfish in Disguise," and "Don't Wanna Talk to You," a free-wheeling power-pop track on which the band displays all the chops of a young Cheap Trick.