Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ellen the Felon at the Skatium

Back in Nov I stopped by the Skatium in South St. Louis for the Ellen the Felon CD release show, “Bang, Bang, Bang”. The Skatium is a roller rink that also hosts live music shows. It had been about 20 years since I stepped into a skating rink but for those who know me well, I literally grew up in one. From the age of 7 to 18 a majority of my time was spent at the skating rink located in my hometown known as The Jackson Skate Center. When I first started going there it was owned by a distant relative, the great Woodie Seabaugh and it was known as The Roll-O-Fun. Woodie ran a tight ship but everyone had a good time, plenty of candy, soda and music. When I was about 9 years old the rink was bought by a new owner from out of town, the legendary Cliff Wilson. Cliff was primarily an auto body man and had a shop in town as well. His two children, Kristie and Brian quickly became my friends even though they were a few years older than me. Thus started my 10 + year association with the rink which went from becoming the local rink rat to fixing skates, working behind the concession counter, floor guard and eventually DJ (my favorite). By the end of my time at the rink Brian and I had created a skateboard park along with a skate shop that included a 4 foot high 12 foot wide mini half pipe outside. We were even booking local bands to play live while people skated such as The Church of Bowling, Simple Mary, Paperclip Nun, Gikk, Chemical Billy, The Honey Offering, Lungbutter, Brave Little Toaster, Drench and yes, even my own band, The Bearded Clam Wonder.

Which brings us back to the Skatium, I was there not for skating but to see live bands. As soon as I walked in all the familiar sights and sounds filled my senses. For a quick moment, I felt 14 years old again. But that didn’t last long as I got a good sense of the layout. As you walk in to your right is where you pick up your skates. To your left was the rink and further on down was the concession area. It’s a fairly large building and there were already a lot of people there. When I got there the band Kid Scientist was already playing out in the middle of the rink while people skated around them. I found my way to the concession area and was stunned to see them selling beer, then I noticed people skating with PBRs in their hands. Had I gone to heaven? I bought a beer then settled in on the side area to take everything in.
I saw many people I kind of recognized but no one I really knew. Then Jason Vargas came up and said “hello”. Hadn’t seen him in a few years, we use to work together but he left to raise a family. He said he was doing well and had two young kids but he was getting back into playing live music. Jason had played (and showed work) at one of the first art shows I helped organized on Cherokee Street back in 04 or 05, when Radio Cherokee was still open. He had skates on and skated off. Then I saw Bowls MacLean and he had his camera. He was snapping away at everyone skating and standing around. He knew most of the people there and was just trying to capture the event. We talked for a bit and I mentioned how low the lighting was. I wanted to snap some photos but I didn’t want to use a flash. He asked to see my camera and I handed it over. he said some technical stuff that went over my head and made some changes with the settings on my camera. Then gave it back to me and said “try that”. I snapped a few shots and they looked beautiful. I thanked him and he said no problem then went back to shooting the scene.
Right about that time I ran into Tony Patti. I’ve known Tony for about 14 years or so, not very long considering. Tony has been in and out of the local scene since the mid-late 70s. I first met him when we both hung out at Frederick’s Music Lounge. We quickly caught up with each other and then started contemplating the scene in front of us at the rink. He’s a big fan of Kid Scientist and was excitedly telling me all about them. After they finished, the next band started setting up. The Chill Dawgs fronted by the awesome Bassamp began playing some great Rock And Roll. Guitar, bass, drums plus not one but two saxophone players. They were sounding good and I snapped a few photos, grabbed another beer and continued talking with Tony.
Tony is in the midst of writing a novel and I greatly enjoy hearing about his creative process. In many ways it’s a lot like painting, sketching out ideas, spreading color on the canvas, editing images out or creating new ones, filling in more color, shading, etc. He and I can spend hours talking about this stuff and we did that night. After the Chill Dawgs were done, Celia’s band, Firedog, kept things going. Celia played some fantastic bass lines and got a few people without skates on out on the floor to dance. Tony and I continued talking and taking in everything going on.
Around 12:30am or so the feature band was about to begin. Ellen the Felon consists of Ellen Cook on keyboard and vocals plus a drummer namedMatthew “The Mattronome” Reyland. As they were about to begin a nice circle of fans grew closer to the middle of the rink waiting for the music to start. And it started with a bang. The Mattronome wailed on his drums, leaving nothing untouched, I understood how he got his name. In constant motion, never resting on a simple high-hat, snare combo rhythm but employing all items within his reach. Then you have Ellen, providing all the beautiful melodies with her keyboard and vocals. It was really stunning to see and hear just her and the drummer filling the whole Skatium with such a full sound. People danced and skated as they performed and I snapped quite a few shots. It was difficult with the low light, I even tried a few with a flash but those looked even worse. I do really like the photo I’m working from for the painting above but had hoped to get a nice shot of both musicians. Perhaps next time. 
now playing - Ellen Cook