The story of Pylon: a true cult band from post-punk America
In 1987 R.E.M. were named the best band in America by Rolling Stone magazine. For anyone that had seen Athens, GA: Inside/Out, though – the documentary based on the music of their hometown and released the same year – it was clear that R.E.M. would have awarded that accolade to Pylon, even if this local band had already split up four years previously. Such public displays of adoration would lead Pylon to reform in 1989 and support R.E.M. on their massive ‘Green’ tour (their first major label album) but despite such public displays of affection and influence, initial touring circuits with the likes of U2, their records being re-released on James Murphy’s DFA label and their music being covered by contemporary Athens heroes Deerhunter as recently as 2011, Pylon still seem to exist as more of a cherished cult group than a pioneering force of the U.S. post-punk and alt-rock movement.
The group initially existed between 1978-1983 and recently the recording of their final show surfaced. A performance recorded at the Mad Hatter Club in Athens, it was for a TV pilot that failed to get off the ground called The Athens Shows. It was recently transferred from tape, mastered and released as ‘Pylon: Live’. The resulting record is a potent document of a band that sound like they are at the apex of their creative powers rather than playing their final, sputtering notes together as a group.
The live album is an illustrative performance of a group in which melody and groove rolled out of them as fluidly and seamlessly as the itchy and guttural guitar stabs. Like the finest of post-punk music from the era they were a group in a state of perpetual motion, surging forward and pulling back simultaneously, harmonious melody and discordant expulsions interlocking and wrestling with one another, spinning and moving in tornado-like trajectories.
The core of the group consisted of Vanessa Briscoe Hay (vocals), Michael Lachowski (bass), Curtis Crowe (drums) and Randall Bewley (guitar), the latter of whom passed away in 2009. Whilst she describes Athens as being “like any other small college town”, Hay states that “A sort of perfect storm of creativity happened to our town between 1975-85.”
The college town already had a strong art department and in 1976 Georgia native Jimmy Carter was elected president and several major artworks were donated in his honour to the Georgia Museum of Art and many notable artists came to speak with the students during the period, bolstering an already thriving artistic community in the area. During this period many downtown businesses were leaving for out-of-town mall locations or simply closing down and this left spacious (and cheap) loft spaces in the centre, which soon became occupied by artists and musicians. Hay reflects on this period, saying: “The ease of living inexpensively factored into artists and future musicians staying there past graduation.”