Review of June 13 In-Store Performance of Skating Polly
words and photos by Ted Zep
Kelli Mayo fiddles nervously with her black bass guitar as she and her bandmate and stepsister bustle through a brief sound check before their scheduled in-store performance. It is 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon at Hollow Bone Records, a stylish record shop which is neatly tucked away in a commercial strip mall just off West Market Street in Fairlawn. Skating Polly is in the middle of a national tour that includes a performance later in the evening at the famed Grog Shop in Cleveland. This, however, will be an abbreviated version of what is to come. Far more relaxed, it is an opportunity for the women to promote their new album, The Make It All Show, as well as meet their fans in a low-key, grassroots manner.
Standing on a slightly elevated 10×10 stage near the rear of the shop and flanked by two portable speakers, the Oklahoma natives are a few feet in front of a wall that is covered with posters touting nationally known acts like KISS, Mastodon, Death Cab For Cutie and The Clash.
The show is sponsored by 91.3 WAPS “The Summit.” Music director and air-talent Chad Miller takes to the stage to introduce the band.
Clutching an acoustic guitar while squared up to the microphone, Mayo’s sibling, Peyton Bighorse, purrs the opening lyrics to “Louder in Outer Space,” a song composed of verses and choruses that crash into one another like waves on shore at high tide. Dressed entirely in black, Bighorse sports a pair of red framed heart-shaped sunglasses that match the tattoos she has on each knee. Her vocals are poppy and innocent. They lend a gentle ache to the song, which is reminiscent of something the Pixies might have done if they were young musicians in 2018. The song is a catchy rager.
Mayo is up to bat next. She is wearing a pair of scuffed Doc Martens, cut-off denim shorts and a white T-shirt underneath a red silk western shirt complete with fringe. She is a prettier version of actress Taryn Manning. Her exterior matches the raw punk snarl of her vocals, which are evocative of those of Jessicka Addams of cult riot grrrl act Jack Off Jill. She simmers and explodes as the song repeatedly builds and folds in upon itself.
Bighorse then guides the pair through a rendition of “Free Will at Ease.” The song is vocally and sonically crisp. They trade lines back and forth on the understated yet seemingly frustrated “Picker of His Words.” The women switch instruments and stage positions to perform the pleasing rocker, “Flatwound Strings,” which closes their set. Though surely excluded for logistical reasons, the absence of the contributions of drummer Kurtis Mayo was noticeable.
Upon wrapping, the band chatted with fans, posed for pictures and signed autographs. They were demure and gracious. The store sold out of available copies of their album in mere minutes.
With their work often tagged with the designation “Ugly Pop,” Skating Polly dexterously writes material that balances fast and slow and soft and hard. Their music is accessible yet lacks the spurious contrivance of early-century pop punk. Their songs are pretty and tough. That’s not always an easy balance to strike. And with the support of such industry luminaries as Exene Cervenka, Nina Gordon and Louise Post, the sky is the veritable limit for the young trio.
Despite high-profile gigs looming in England, Germany and Scotland this fall, the band breaks down its own equipment and lugs it out to the parking lot, only to do it all again in a few hours.