The Fortnight Before Christmas w/ Cat Purse, Shark Dad, Ellen The Felon
Saturday, December 14, 9pm
The Heavy Anchor, 5226 Gravois
Tomorrow, a cat, a felon and a shark will walk into a bar. They won't say "Ouch." They won't groan about 1920s gambling laws. They won't be the punchline to any of those dumb jokes about different species ordering beers. The motley crew will simply play some damn good music.
Talented as they are, Cat Purse, Ellen The Felon and Shark Dad all have something to prove during Saturday's "The Fortnight Before Christmas" at the Heavy Anchor (9 p.m., 5226 Gravois), which means that they'll be setting the bar instead of walking directly into it. Cat Purse, an Americana band led by Matt Champion, will test a fresh lineup and sound. Ellen The Felon's Ellen Cook continues her revved-up comeback from a health scare with a new album. And Shark Dad has that new-car smell, with former Orbz frontman Jason Robinson and company having played just one show so far. Those challenges don't deter any of these acts, though."Matt's infectious enthusiasm is pretty clear," Robinson attests. "When he says we'll put together a killer bill, he means it."
Though "Fortnight" will be the first time all three acts perform together, there are connections among the band members that go back years. Champion briefly played keyboards for Robinson's old band the Orbz, and former Orbz members Chris Luckett and Kenny Adelman now are part of Cat Purse, along with Scott Feller. And Cook and Robinson played one show at Cicero's together and were formally introduced to each other at the STL Loud Volume One release party.
"Langen Neubacher [of the Defeated County] introduced us. The first thing we did was try to scare Langen by having Ellen hide in an empty beer locker thing," Robinson says.
"That's right!" Cook remembers. "And we talked about doing a Zappa tribute, and your bandmates kept talking to me about synths and gear that I have no knowledge of. I'm not a very good gearhead."
This camaraderie and mutual admiration is why Champion brought Ellen the Felon and Shark Dad along for the ride in his Christmas sleigh. "I picked Shark Dad and Ellen because I like them as people and respect them as musicians," Champion says. "I do this for fun, and there is nothing more fun than playing shows with your friends."
The variety in the bands' musical styles certainly will be the centerpiece of tomorrow's festive show. Champion describes Cat Purse as "a bitter and angry version of the band America, or maybe Warren Zevon, Neil Young and the Pixies playing old Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings tunes." Shark Dad plays '50s-tinged garage rock under song titles like "Sorry, We Only Date Vampires." And you can hear a variety of influences in Ellen The Felon's distinctive piano wailings. "Ellen is a cabaret punk," Robinson says. "Like Joan Jett having a fight with Carole King."
For Champion, there's no question that all of the eager musicians on the bill will make a perfect Christmas gift for St. Louis. "Shark Dad's rawness and barely controlled chaos will knock a few folks over. Ellen and Matt [Reyland, aka The Mattronome, who plays drums in Ellen the Felon] will provide unexpected class and elegance to the trashcan rock and alt-countryish indie rock of the rest of us," Champion says. "I think the audience will be most surprised about the way Cat Purse sounds. It's a distinct departure from our original sound, and one that I think will keep developing in the future."
That future is bright for all three of these very driven acts. Over the past few months, Robinson has been releasing Shark Dad demos, and he's excited about his first new band since the Orbz called it quits in 2012. "I think for Shark Dad and me personally, it's time to really show off what I've been working on and time to re-introduce myself to the music scene," Robinson says. "This show in particular is a big, big showcase for what's been trapped in my head for a year and some change."
Cook already has garnered plenty of acclaim for Bang Bang Bang Ellen the Felon's debut album that was released this fall and promoted with a roller-skating party that St. Louis still is talking about. "It was a blast! The Skatium is easily one of the most underrated venues in Saint Louis," Cook says. "Everyone skated and drank. Everyone got a CD. It was perfect. I'm still glowing from that night."
And Champion, who briefly held down both the guitar and vocalist positions in Cat Purse before assembling the new lineup, is ready to start pumping out songs that listeners can keep forever. "We have a handful of tunes that are ready for prime time," Champion says. "I don't know how soon we'll get into the studio, but I definitely see some basement recordings surfacing before too long."
As for "The Fortnight Before Christmas" show, Champion isn't promising any lords-a-leaping or turtledoves. But he does suggest that audience members get ready to shout "Merry Christmas and happy new yeeeeear!" during an unexpected holiday cover. "We’re going to tear the roof off the sucker," Champion promises.
by Allison Babka