Historic ‘Athens Shows’ gig highlights a quite stella show
Titled in typical no-nonsense fashion, ‘Live’ is a double LP documenting Athens, Georgia New Wave pioneers Pylon’s final gig in 1983 at hometown venue the Mad Hatters’ Club, whilst touring their second album ‘Chomp’. Originally filmed for a failed PBS pilot Athens Shows, the now-historic gig was recorded professionally, and was subsequently – like so many only-important-after-the-fact moments, one must imagine – forgotten about and quietly left to gather dust in a vault somewhere. All this changed recently, though, when Chunklet CEO bemoaned the lack of bonus tracks available for the re-issues of the bands catalogue, resulting in an Easter-egg hunt for lost Pylon recordings – and the eventual unearthing of this stellar show in its entirety.
In 2016, an age of endless re-issues, deluxe versions and arbitrary cash-cow anniversary editions, you might be inclined to give this release the disapproving side-eye at first glance. But letting this recording finally see the light of day is actually a legitimately big deal, as you have to remember that Pylon, like fellow alternative icons The Germs, The La’s and the Sex Pistols, only left a modest legacy behind in relation to their eventual influence – just two albums and a smattering of singles during their initial run. This twenty song set, then, is a fascinating and much-needed look at a seminal band from the other side of the fence; set free on-stage and away from the muted confines of the studio, which is where their most ardent fans will always argue they truly belonged.
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Show opener ‘Working is No Problem’ exemplifies Pylon’s tight, reverb-heavy post-punk, with Vanessa Briscoe Hay’s unpolished vocals alternating between a Nico-esque whisper and a piercing yelp. It recalls the best of early U2 – a band they incidentally had spent a stint opening for only months prior to this show. Tracks like ‘Danger’ and ‘No Clocks’, meanwhile, see the late Randy Bewley’s huge guitar sound transcend the tiny club setting of their performance, laid over driving, angular basslines that later disciples like Interpol and Editors have to thank for their entire sound. It’s very much of its time, but Pylon’s aesthetic is so minimal, and there’s so little pretense or fluff, that it’s difficult to sound dated.
The whole seventy minute show is tirelessly energetic, and almost every song benefits from the punk energy sorely missed on the studio versions. ‘Chomp’ lead track ‘K’, and ‘Beep’, are prime examples, with the former’s sludgy, effects-laden bass riffs bringing a much murkier sense of doom than the pristine, clinical production of the original could ever hope to achieve. The sound quality is top notch throughout for what is essentially a polished-up, thirty year old bootleg tape, and the non-existent crowd noise means it could be mistaken for an extended Peel session that never was, or a raw demo recording.
Much more than just a history lesson or curious artefact, ‘Live’ is a brilliant listening experience in its own right. But equally importantly, as a snapshot of an era-defining band in their prime, it shows a more visceral side of Pylon that has, until now, largely gone undocumented.
‘Live’ is out on 25th July on Chunklet
This Pylon article was written by Dan Whiteley, a GIGsoup contributor