The Skating Polly siblings really know how to finish a family road trip in high style. Performing in front of a sold-out crowd Friday, Dec. 15, at the Echo, the Oklahoma City trio even had a surprise or two up their sleeves on the last night of their West Coast tour with Starcrawler.
Things began calmly enough before getting crazy at the end, much like the way many of Skating Polly’s songs build tension with quiet verses before bursting into loud choruses.
“Sun-bound, we skip so slowly/Unplanned, unkempt, let’s go,” singer-guitarist Peyton Bighorse urged softly a few songs into the evening, on “Louder in Outer Space,” from the band’s recent EP, New Trick. She strummed a few muted but hypnotic notes on the low strings of her blue Hamer guitar while stepsister Kelli Mayo matched her with similarly lulling tones on bass. Then the chorus sprang up from the sleepy verse with a sudden roar, and Bighorse cried, “Can you hear that harmony?/I can hear it in my sleep/I can hear it even louder in outer space.”
What started as a dreamlike harmony in Bighorse’s head had expanded into a compulsive chorus that had a roomful of people nodding in recognition and banging their heads in rhythm. So much of what makes Skating Polly unique is the way that Bighorse and Mayo transform seemingly insular details and down-home personal observations into catchy, proudly defiant rallying cries.
The two sisters alternated on lead vocals, sometimes within the same song and at other times harmonizing behind the other, while brother Kurtis Mayo slugged away at his drums.
After thanking Starcrawler for “a most awesome tour,” Kelli Mayo introduced “Queen for a Day,” a new song from Skating Polly’s upcoming record, scheduled to be released in the spring. The song featured lyrics by Exene Cervenka, the longtime X singer who has taken the group under her wing and produced their second album, 2013’s Lost Wonderfuls. The lyrics were difficult to make out live, but Bighorse’s midtempo stop-and-start guitar chords were streaked with Cure-style plucking, before going back and forth into a series of louder punk riffs.
Peyton Bighorse and Kelli Mayo alternated vocal lines in the sullenly rebellious “Morning Dew,” their intertwined low riffs again sounding like melancholic double basses before the volume doubled for the surging chorus, all of it feeling much more powerful than the studio recording on Skating Polly’s 2106 record, The Big Fit. That was followed by “Oddie Moore,” another song from the same record. It started as a plaintive, lo-fi folk tune before Bighorse cranked up her guitar and sent her vocals soaring above Kurtis Mayo’s crashing cymbals.
“Oh great, you’ve mastered irony/You are so who I want to be,” Kelli Mayo howled sarcastically on “Stop Digging,” trying to drown in her sister’s sludgy guitar. Bighorse moved away from the grungy attack on a second new song, “Free Will,” which was buoyed by droning, poppy strumming that evoked The Clean.
Another highlight was “Hail Mary,” from the new EP. Standing on the tips of her toes, Kelli was at her most coolly portentous as the early verses slunk slowly and shyly in the shadows, Bighorse’s sweet harmony drifting in slowly and belying the sense of impending menace. Then more thunder and another head-banging chorus.
Near the end of the show, Kurtis came out from behind the drums and strapped on a guitar while Bighorse moved behind the kit. The set-closing “Alabama Movies” was an unsettling psychedelic freakout as Kelli wailed over the soupy chaos and Kurtis thrashed away at the strings of the guitar with a drumstick and toppled at least one hapless microphone stand.
After all that psychodrama, Skating Polly surprised when they returned with the members of Starcrawler for a contrastingly sweet one-song encore. Describing the combined musicians as a supergroup named Crawly Polly, Kelli led the way into a charming version of The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care.” Starcrawler guitarist Henri Cash ripped out a quick solo, and the young band’s singer, Arrow de Wilde, exchanged vocals with Bighorse and Kelli. “Everybody’s got somebody to lean on,” they sang, making the lyrics ring true just by banding together.