It’s no secret Pylon Live has been in the works for three years, but really the album has been waiting for a release since it was recorded in 1983. Now, thanks to Chunklet’s Henry Owings and Pylon bassist Michael Lachowski, lost recordings from the group’s final show have been mixed, mastered, and released in an effort to capture the band’s explosive stage presence.
Pylon’s importance to college rock and the Athens music scene has been acknowledged many times since their peak in the early ’80s, but even an endorsement from Michael Stipe at the height of R.E.M.’s popularity couldn’t help the band break through to the mainstream. And so, despite a recent uptick in popularity and a Lexus commercial, Pylon remains linked to the Athens underground, an intimate connection that R.E.M and the B-52s simply no longer have.
Like many other influential punk bands of the ’80s who never received widespread recognition until well after they disbanded, it’s easy to get lost in the mythos of Pylon and forget they were simply masters of energetic rock and roll, a fact sharply outlined by Pylon Live.
The 20-track album is almost entirely comprised of cuts from their debut record Gyrate and the follow-up Chomp, with an unreleased cover of the Batman theme closing out the LP. The lack of new material doesn’t make this any less essential of a record though, mostly because the band stays locked in throughout the hour-long performance, never losing energy as they pummel the audience to ecstasy. It’s difficult to pick a key track of the album, but the five-minute epic “Danger” is a no wave classic. The smoky buildup and stabbing rhythms hit with a primal murkiness and an inimitable cool. This might not be the best introduction to Pylon’s sound, but it’s definitely the best introduction to Pylon as a band and force of nature.
The album was recorded at the Mad Hatter in Athens and was originally destined for a PBS pilot conspicuously titled Athens Shows. It doesn’t sound lo-fi exactly, but since the recording was in a relatively small room, the high-end doesn’t glisten as much as on Pylon’s studio material. Still, it sounds better than one might expect, mostly due to Owings’ insistence that the recordings capture the untempered energy of a Pylon show. Vanessa Briscoe Hay’s vocals are punchy and drummer Curtis Crowe’s primitive beats are as forceful as on any of the studio versions.
When listening to Pylon, there’s always a temptation to succumb to wistful alternate universe thinking, even bitterness that they didn’t blow up like some of their peers. Pylon Live doesn’t allow any such moping; instead it pulls the listener back to the club that night in ’83 with stomping beats and euphoric melodies. It’s a punktastic whirlwind, an effervescent slice of life, and a timeless party.
Pylon Reenactment Society (featuring Vanessa Briscoe Hay) will celebrate the release of Pylon Live tomorrow at the Earl and on Saturday at the 40 Watt. Supporting them on both nights will be We Love Tractor and The Swimming Pool Q’s. Doors at the Earl open at 9 p.m. Admission is $15 in advance or $18 DOS. Doors at the 40 Watt open at 8 p.m. Admission is $10 in advance or $12 DOS.