"So what are we doing exactly?" Lucy Michelle asks as she finishes lacing up her bowling shoes. She adjusts the stocking cap on her head and squeezes herself tight inside her dark blue cardigan, a large red scarf wound loosely around her neck.
"Hell if I know," I say. "Let's just start bowling."
It's been a couple of years since City Pages sat down with Michelle and her band, the Velvet Lapelles—since they appeared on the cover as winners of the Picked to Click poll in 2008, as a matter of fact—so with the recent release of their third album in as many years, Good of That, and a New Year's Eve show at Lee's Liquor Lounge, now seemed like a good time to catch up with the much-loved locals.
Thinking outside the box, the band hit on the idea of meeting up at Bryant-Lake Bowl for a good old-fashioned game of 10-pin, but no one has really formulated a plan for the evening. My editor sent me here with the helpful dictate to "have fun" and I am even, rather extravagantly, joined by a photographer who's helping document the proceedings.
"We bowl all the time," bassist Jesse Schuster assures me, his hands tucked in the pockets of his red zip-up hoodie, as though everything is under control. "In fact, we just had one of our team bowling band practices today. Did I tell you we have a bowling team? You are profiling our bowling team, right?"
"We're like 5 and 4," adds drummer Geoff Freeman, spinning around in his chair and tossing his hands up in the air with a shrug. "Whatever that means."
We've been given two lanes to accommodate our large crew (there are seven of us here and two more on the way), but while logic would suggest this helping the flow of the game, the reality of two people bowling at once only leads to more confusion. Charlie Smith—the newest member of the band, late of Military Special, having just played his first show with Michelle at the release of the new record on Halloween—is proving his worth by valiantly trying to keep track of the score, but when he gets up to bowl himself everyone else loses track of the game.
Freeman merrily goes about bowling like a wild man, grabbing the heaviest ball he can find and hucking it down the lane, splaying out on the floor each time as he does so. Schuster—when he's not impersonating Janelle Monáe's dance moves ("It's like she's everywhere at once. It's amazing.")—is little better, flicking the ball off his hip and sending it bouncing madly along in plain view of the "Do Not Loft Ball" sign.
Guitarist Chris Graham has by far the smoothest delivery of the group, winding up like he's in a game of slow-pitch softball and guiding the ball elegantly along its course. "He's got great form," Schuster muses. "The only problem is he always gets zeroes." And he's right: Through the first three frames, Graham is locked in a head-to-head battle with Ashley Boman—except Boman hasn't shown up yet.
Boman eventually arrives and sits down next to Michelle as they inform me how excited they are to have another female with them on their upcoming tour. The band will be traveling down South with Caroline Smith and Goodnight Sleeps, kicking things off the night after their New Year's gig with a show in Winona. "The van starts smelling pretty awful after a while," Michelle says. Boman, looking off to the side, pushes her glasses up her nose and nods in agreement.
Michelle's turn comes around again and it's the ninth frame of the game. She hasn't had a strike yet, but this time the ball heads straight up the middle and hits the head pin dead center. Everyone's huddled around the scoring table and at the sound of the pins scattering they all look up and start cheering. Michelle throws her arms up and tosses her head back triumphantly.
"Hey, there's still a pin there!" Freeman exclaims suddenly, pointing eagerly ahead, and he starts booing loudly.
Michelle spins back around and, realizing she's missed the strike, collapses to her knees, throwing her hat in disgust and letting out an anguished cry. Our photographer—who's quietly been putting us all to shame with the points he's been racking up and is about to score 29 of them in the final frame—runs over and starts snapping photos like a paparazzo, his flash freezing Michelle's melodramatic meltdown frame by frame as the rest of us look on, laughing and booing joyously.
By the time the excitement dies down, Smith has given up on scoring and tells everyone else to add up their own scores—but no one seems to take much notice. At long last, cellist Eamonn McLain arrives, his ski goggles fogged up and his face half-frozen from having biked over from work.
"Wait, so how does the scoring work now?" Graham asks, wondering whether McLain can jump in on our game. McLain purses his lips, a grin slowly curling at the edges of his mouth. He cranes his head back over his shoulder as if to see if anyone else is listening. "You win, Chris," McLain says, with a faux congratulatory air. "It means you win. That's how it works."
"What?" Graham blurts, his eyes bulging in disbelief. "I win? No, wait." He scratches his head and leans back distrustfully. "That doesn't make any sense!"
Funny thing is, McLain—who lets out a laugh and shakes his head—has a point, if only by default: Graham is the only one who's actually bothered to add up his score.
LUCY MICHELLE AND THE VELVET LAPELLES perform with E.L.nO on FRIDAY, DECEMBER 31, at LEE'S LIQUOR LOUNGE; 612.338.9491