Review: Quinnie Earns a Shiny Gold Star at Schubas
Remember when I said most artists sound even better live than in the studio? You don’t? Well, good on you for paying attention because I never said such a thing. That is, until now… See, I’ve rarely encountered an artist or band that sounded worse live. Most play the songs as recorded and rely on the magic of playing music in-person to a group of feverishly excited concertgoers for that extra oomph. When I leave a show, I’m not usually one to think, “Wow, I sure wish that’s how they sounded on the record”, but after the Quinnie show, my mind was definitely thinking some of those thoughts. However, I must say that that is in no way a slight against Quinnie’s masterful 2023 debut album, flounder, which is as beautifully recorded as it is written and performed. I just don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone live who didn’t just play their songs but had their songs play them (yes, I’m aware of how cheesy that sounds.) Her sound was massive. Her stage presence was undeniable. Her voice was angelic. This is Quinnie’s world right now and we’re all just living in it.
It should be said though that this wouldn’t be Quinnie’s world if she didn’t have great amounts of support from incredible artists and musicians setting the stage for her such as Chicago’s own Half Gringa. Midwest Folk can be a mixed bag sometimes. It can be as boring as that random doom-metal band playing in your friend’s friend’s basement. Sometimes, though, it can be some of the most unexpectedly exciting and poignant music out there and I’m glad to say Half Gringa falls squarely into the latter bucket.
I have so much respect for artists who come as they are and perform with just their voice and guitar. I can’t imagine how daunting it must feel to be all alone up on stage but you wouldn’t have known it from the looks of Isabel Olive, the mad genius behind Half Gringa, while she was on stage Wednesday night. Coming off the release of her new EP, Ancestral Home, she treated the audience to many songs both new and old to much applause. Not knowing any of her work going in, I was most impressed and transfixed by songs like “Afraid of Horses” from her 2020 album Force to Reckon and especially “No Kind of Fire” from her latest EP. Both songs, as well as much of the other material she played, offered up a powerful folky sadness reminiscent of a stripped-down Angel Olsen. Do yourself a favor and, at the very least, check out Ancestral Home with the lights off; you won’t regret it.
With Half Gringa’s set in the bag, the stage was set for Quinnie , the New Jersey indie-folk singer that has the whole indie community (if not the whole community, then at least me) in an uproar. Like a Red-Riding Hood phoenix rising from the ashes, Quinnie appeared and broke into “security question”, the second track from her debut album, flounder. Immediately I could tell that this performance was going to be a special one. I’m not sure if Schubas’ sound engineer was just having a really, really good day or my ears popped, but the sound that night as well as the performances from Quinnie’s backing band were incredulously unbelievable.
To my knowledge, Quinnie played every single song from flounder plus the one released deluxe track, “fade”, and even blessed us with an incredible performance of “shape”, a currently unreleased song that will serve as flounder’s second deluxe track when it honestly should have been included on the album given that it’s undoubtedly on of the album’s highlights. The entire set was basically one big highlight, but songs like “itch”, “flounder”, “get what u get”, and “gold star”, the title track from Quinnie’s 2019 EP, made for some next-level performances. Even though everyone in Quinnie’s band, including Quinnie herself, gave great performances, the drumming, in particular, was the highlight of the show for me. The drummer, a Chicago native whose name I did not catch, brought an astonishing level of virtuosity and technicality to his performance which added a whole new level of brilliance to Quinnie’s songs. There were numerous drum solos, an incredible amount of almost metal-sounding fills, and such masterful attention to detail that not one moment in any of Quinnie’s songs went by without some percussive flourish that added so much excitement and grandeur to it all. I would be surprised if the drummer’s prowess didn’t influence the other members of her backing band as with every intricate drum fill or solo came a ripping guitar solo that almost went too hard for the gentle indie folk sounds you expect from Quinnie but none of it seemed at all out of place live.
Quinnie, like the lovely tease she is, saved her biggest two songs for last and went out with one of the biggest bangs I’ve ever seen from a show at Schubas. Her breakout hit “touch tank” drew massive cheers and even more enthusiastic singing but even the energy given to “touch tank” was no match for “man”, the opening track to flounder, and her final song for the night. “man” was the first song I ever heard from Quinnie and remains as one of my favorite songs period so yes, I certainly wasn’t helping out the “touch tank” cause because I’m too far gone on the “man” hill for any other song.
Usually, Wednesday nights at Schubas don’t go so damn hard, but I couldn’t be more grateful and feel more special to live in a city that gets the special Quinnie treatment given the fact her tour isn’t the most complete in terms of dates. It also didn’t make me feel any less special that Quinnie led the crowd in a happy birthday singalong for someone in her entourage named Lorenzo. I’ve never even met another Lorenzo in real life and here I am getting indirectly sung to by around 100 5’4” Gen-Z women. It was truly a special night I won’t soon forget.
All photos by Lorenzo Zenitsky