The Day After | Love-O-Rama and a Hope for Valentines

love2"The show," Loveless added, "encourages audience members to question everything, think for themselves, fuck the media, and create what they want."

 

 

 

 

loveFlowers and candy or whips and kisses make for special touches to any couple's Valentine's Day, but what about the singles? Except for a painful reminder of their singleness, the black sheep of February 14 don't have much to look forward to, some pity chocolate, maybe. No surprise that by the time the fifteenth rolled around, most people were just happy to have the Hallmark- and Harry & David-driven holiday over with.

So why is it that over 200 people trudged down to South City's renovated Lucas School House in the frigid winter to watch Fire Dog, Celia's Big Rock Band, the Bench Press Burlesque, The In, and VJ Evil Che (Mike Pagano) perform in what the group collectively called a Love-O-Rama?

Easy answer: Love. Well, that and live music from some of the most fluid groups of performers in St. Louis. No surprise that the School House hosted the show, with its warm, wine-cellar feel of stained glass, hardwood floors, and leather couches. Christmas lights, glowing hearts, and papier-mâché dogs pinned to the walls added a pleasant absurdity that relaxed the room, while a dial-o-meter made sure nobody, upstairs or down, missed the hostess, Celia Shacklett, when she took the stage in her cherry-red dress.

Introductions were short and led directly into the first band performance of the night. Fire Dog, fronted by Mark Pagano and backed by drummer Brandon Kenny and Celia, began with a crisp blend of staccato beats and fun "ah, ah, ahs" that got bodies up and shimmying on the dance floor. Pagano, oddly reminiscent of Hedwig and the Angry Inch's John Cameron Mitchell, belted out a spunky new song entitled, "Disappear."

"What makes my music so memorable," Pagano said afterward, "is the playfulness of the songwriting. It's optimistic without being naïve. Fun, danceable, Love-O-Rama pop!" The mood was infectious and even pulled other musicians onstage. Adamh Roland of the Tin Lizzies, dressed in a mishmash of ties, polka-dotted skirts, and tights, joined the In's saxophonist Chris Wilson for a stunning harmony on "You Don't Know My Mama," which stirred local singer Suzanne Peebles onto the dance floor.

An out-of-breath Peebles returned after the song, smiling and talking about "the glorious celebration of love fueled," as she put it, "by vitality." To her, Peebles continued, "the show is an exploration into beings and beyond the labels we have, a calliope of frenzied performance, so why not have fun with it?"

"I love to be around folks who are celebrating," Celia added. When asked about the force behind the music, she elaborated: "Performers fighting for their minds against so much static all around from social issues, wrapped up in advertising – makes for a strong reaction, an attempt to say something different."

With messages of acceptance, Celia's Big Rock Band matched Fire Dog's energy with their own funky sound, a vibrant mix of loud vocals and layered rhythms from the In's bassist Dan Huck, guitarist Melinda Winifred Jane Tentrees, and drummer Tom Collins. VJ Evil Che threaded his visual poetry through the set in cuts and splices of soldiers and spiritual leaders, while the band slung metaphor after metaphor at an oppressive America.

With all the forms oppression takes, it was refreshing to see a group willing to fight back on a political-sexual front. The Bench Press Burlesque uses burlesque in a way that, as founder Loretta Loveless explained, "allows us to address heavy topics, fun topics, and scandalous topics in a light way." What began as a ramshackle performance flyered by Loveless has grown into an all-out ballsy, sex-positive cultural critique.

"We love being sexy and using our bodies to talk about politics, as they are intimately connected," Miss Happ, another performer and the group's only biological male, said. "Burlesque sets the stage for us to be up front about our bodies and our sexualities," he continued, "which we use as a springboard to get into all of the other issues that we are passionate about: workers' rights, self-determination, feminism, anti-consumerism, opposition to U.S. military dominance, and many other things."

As Happ put it, "The creation process is fantastically anarchist and organic, something for those who find the intellectual just as stimulating as the visceral." Body pyramids, naughty jokes, and acrobatics were only some of the visuals that led into a particularly erotic bicycle sketch. The Tin Lizzies, the troupe's house band, brought a fiery note to the performance, while a jaunty Cupid lightened moods by firing candies into the hungry crowd.

Sketches dealt with icons like President Bush depicted as a child in a sandbox mishandling an inflatable globe all to the tune of the Gossip's "On the Playground." Monsanto and Boeing were also targets, as well as the plastic surgery industry; through sexual empowerment, audience members witnessed workers rebelling against oily corporations and absurd standards of beauty.

But how did the troupe justify this performance, especially on the day after Valentine's? "The holiday was first co-opted by the church with their fiction of St. Valentine," Happy explained, "and now it's been co-opted by people selling bloody diamonds, child-labor chocolates, and the myth of monogamy."

"It's an opportunity to play with the archetypal associations linked to the holiday," Roland continued. "Performance pieces like drag, burlesque, guerilla theater, radical cheerleading, music, and puppetry have played key roles in movement building and expressing political thought to resistance."

"The show," Loveless added, "encourages audience members to question everything, think for themselves, fuck the media, and create what they want."celia

After rousing applause and cheering, the In took the stage to polish off the evening with its own brand of clippy, frenetic sounds. Vocalist Nathan Graves, bassist Dan Huck, drummer Mike Schurck, and saxophonist Chris Wilson made sure audience members who stuck around had a damn good reason to. Coming from old-school blues influences with injections of Radiohead, John Coltrane, and Muse, the In delivered the final wallop to a knockout show "on a day," as Graves put it, "where everyone needs a little love."

When asked what he appreciated about the band's evolving sound, Wilson explained that he enjoyed how "music gives people instant cred and recognition, so listeners are open to ideas right off the bat." To attest to the relative smallness of St. Louis' music scene, Huck mentioned a story about Wilson, where "four or five practices in, [he] asked Chris for his last name and found out [they'd] played together in a high school jazz band and didn't even realize it." Schurck, who'd kept modestly quiet before the performance, answered equally so when asked what song he wished he could've made his own. "I'd rather listen to it than have made it," he said. Despite this reservation, the performance was anything but modest – high energy and heavily applauded.

While the bottom line was important, it was not for the reasons audience members might've expected. "At Highest Risk," (www.athighestrisk.com) a project spearheaded by writer and Fulbright scholar Rebecca Rivas, became the pet charity of the Love-O-Rama show, with proceeds going toward the continued documentation of alarming mortality rates among Peruvian women of the Andes. "When we first set out on the road, I don't think any of us were truly convinced that women's health in Peru would fit seamlessly in with rock 'n' roll, but it did," Rivas said. And with such strong causes and great music, performers made it clear that the day after Valentine's could be a day of love for everyone, single or otherwise. | James Nokes

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