Pylon unearthed

Rediscovered final performance captures Pylon’s high-energy stage presence.

PYLON IN THE FLESH: Michael Lachowski (clockwise from left), Curtis Crowe, Randy Bewley, and Vanessa Briscoe Hay circa 1980.
Photo credit: Michael Lachowski

On Dec. 1, 1983, Pylon played its final show — for the first time. History proved it wouldn’t be the last. But while reveling in buzz band accolades alongside Athens’ early ’80s new wave peers R.E.M. and the B-52’s, the post-punk outfit went out on a high note. At the time, Pylon singer Vanessa Briscoe Hay, bass player Michael Lachowski, drummer Curtis Crowe, and guitarist Randy Bewley had reached an impasse. After releasing two critically acclaimed albums, 1980’s Gyrate, and 1983’s Chomp, via DB Records, the group played Athens’ Mad Hatter one last time. “We had a pact that we would go our separate ways when we were no longer having fun,” Briscoe Hay says. “We still enjoyed playing, and we remained friends. Really, we were sort of a family.”

The show was filmed for a television pilot called “The Athens Shows,” which also included a performance by Athens’ alternative rock act Love Tractor. Ultimately, only a handful of songs performed that night survived the video edit. But a separate 4-Track audio recording was also made — seemingly lost to the sands of time.

When Bewely died of a heart attack in 2009, Briscoe Hay inherited some unreleased Pylon recordings. As the story goes, a few years earlier, Lachowski had borrowed a ring-worn Chomp album sleeve from Chunklet Industries owner Henry Owings, to use when creating the cover art for DFA’s 2009 CD reissue, Chomp More. When Lachowski returned the cover a few years later, Owings bemoaned the shortage of unreleased and rare material on DFA’s reissue.

Lachowski, Briscoe Hay, and Owings started searching for an appropriate live recording that could be considered for release. Briscoe Hay passed along Bewley’s tapes, where they found a CD featuring mixed-down audio of four songs from Pylon’s final 1983 performance. “It met all of our parameters,” she says. “It was a significant show. It was well recorded, and it was complete.”

A search for the rest of the recording led to Swimming Pool Q’s singer and guitarist Jeff Calder who dug up the tape. It was given to Derek Almstead (Circulatory System, Elf Power) who mixed the songs, and then over to Drew Crumbaugh, who mastered it. Bob Weston (Shellac) did the vinyl mastering at Electrical Audio in Chicago.

Simply titled Live, the 20-song double LP reveals new dimensions of Pylon’s personality that are only hinted at throughout Gyrate and Chomp.

 In the space between opening number, “Working Is No Problem,” and “Driving School,” Bewley unravels a swell of staccato guitar noise that grows increasingly urgent as Briscoe Hay barks a scathing lyrical mantra: “Seatbelt. Windshield. Dashboard. Floormat. Spare tire. Lug wrench. A.M. F.M.”

Other songs, “Gravity,” “Cool,” “Danger,” “Volume,” “M Train,” and more unfold with bold spaciousness, moving faster than any previously released versions. The on-stage mania is the product of chemistry between the audience and the performers. “There was communication going on,” Briscoe Hay says. “Every show was different, and we always fed off of the audience’s energy.”

It was the end of an era for Pylon. The group reunited and played shows later, first from 1989-1992, and again from 2004-2009. Even now, Briscoe Hay and a cast of young musicians dubbed the Pylon Reenactment Society bring these songs to life on special occasions. But the Live double LP is the one true document of Pylon’s high-energy stage presence. It’s a previously undiscovered chapter for a band already steeped in mythology, and a chance for a new generation to discover a timeless sound.

[/atlanta/pylon-reenactment-society-featuring-vanessa-briscoe-hay-we-love-tractor-the-swimming-pool-qs/Event?oid=17499441|Pylon Reenactment Society plays the Earl on Fri., July 29. $15-$18. 8 p.m. W/ F#ck Tractor, and the Swimming Pool Q’s. 488 Flat Shoals Ave. S.E. 404-522-3950. www.badearl.com.]