Ellen James Society at Louisville Gardens

By Leonard January

It's too bad nobody else besides me and about forty-three other people showed up at the Louisville Gardens Auditorium on May 24 to catch what was to be the final concert of the Atlanta-based Ellen James Society's tour.

The Ellen James Society Photo by Katheryn Kolb

As we speak, the quartet is gearing up for their next big tour which will take them to California and numerous cherry-picked gigs. If all goes according to plan, says John Brandt, E.J.S.'s manager and public relations man, they could be picked up by one of the many big-name record labels that have been in contact with them. Presently E.J.S. is completing its one-year label deal with Daemon Records, a non-profit label out of Atlanta, run and owned by Amy Ray of Indigo Girls fame.

Let me start off by saying that the Ellen James Society band is one of the most powerful, awe-inspiring groups that I've had the pleasure of seeing in concert. Fronted by female guitarist-vocalist Chris McGuire and female lead guitarist-vocalist Cooper Seay, with Scott Bland on drums and bassist Bryan Lilje, the hard-driving, college rock, post-modern, punk-rooted assemblage supplied more energy in one hour than most bands could even come close to. And this was for 43 people!

If I were to try and compare them to anyone, I'd be spinning my wheels. I heard bits of early Patti Smith, Pretenders, the stuttered lead guitar sound of an upset Neil Young and early U2.

Upon first hearing them, one is forced to acknowledge the powerful bass and drumming, which seems to propel every song. On center stage, Chris McGuire stands in khaki over-sized shorts, black boots and long brown hair flowing all over her. The words are definitely coming from her mouth but, before you can really focus in on her, your eyes are immediately drawn to Cooper Seay. Seay, whose total aura and presence reminds me of a Peter Pan who has just taken some secret potion, is about to throw a spell on everyone within a fifty-mile radius. The two alternate on lead vocals but intertwine with each other throughout every song as if they were completing a new tapestry for the evening.

Supporting the group's first tour is the album entitled Reluctantly We, with songs like "Tiger (by the Tail)," "Weapon in Your Bed," and invocation like "God in Heaven," that let the listener feel the full emotional charge of a structured conversation between a man and "the battle in my head every day" and the protagonist who responds, "No matter what, you wind up dead." It's these types of heady, introspective lyrics that permeate the core of their music. As the force of the words begins to sink in, the thrashing of Cooper Seay's guitar reminds one of an early Pete Townshend. The guitars are basically harsh in nature but more times than not melodic riffs of varying dissonance seep through every song to accent what is being chanted. I'm telling you, this band will jerk heads around for a long time because they are distinctive in sound, and, as a listener, you get sucked into the center of the band's vital organs.

Every aspect of the Ellen James Society warrants taking a first and second look at. The name of their band was taken from a John Irving novel, "The World According to Garp." Ellen James was the character who had been raped and had her tongue cut out. The events surrounding the character represent the absurd being the norm and the norm being the absurd. The lyrics of the E.J.S. band reflect this attitude.

There is something that is fresh and daring and ensnaring about this group. If they ever come close to this area again to play ... go experience them.