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Volume Is Pleasant!

Pylon's Gyrate shakes into action

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Pylon's Gyrate originally hit the turntables in 1980
  • Pylon's Gyrate originally hit the turntables in 1980

"Volume"
from the album Gyrate
Audio File

Pylon have come and gone ... and come and gone again. Thank goodness.

By the time I moved from Charleston to Athens, Ga., for my freshman year at UGA, New Wave quartet Pylon — one of the pioneering and inspiring bands of the early modern Athens music scene — were seemingly gone for good. They were well-remembered for a brief but influential early-'80s heyday. Some used to say Pylon followed musically and stylistically in the footsteps of The B-52's, which is partly true. While the B's tended to crank more campy, beehive, surf-rock, party music, Pylon pounded out some of the weirdest rock and dance music to bounce outta the South. But by late 1988, singer Vanessa Briscoe-Hay, guitarist Randy Bewley, bassist Michael Lachowski, and drummer Curtis Crowe were in resurrection mode.

My first experience with Pylon was via R.E.M.'s 1986 cover of "Crazy," a jangly, minor-key pop song with a stiff dance beat, originally released by Pylon on their 1983 Chomp album. Then came the stylish rockumentary Athens, Ga.: Inside/Out (released on video in 1987). The segment on Pylon was mesmerizing stuff featuring killer vintage live show film footage (mostly in Super-8 film), and amusing interviews with Vanessa and Michael — both of whom emphasized the fact they were a band of artists who could hardly play their instruments, but were dedicated to making off-kilter music that was fun to play and perform.

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In 1988, I found a vinyl copy of Pylon's first full-length, Gyrate. I loved it for its raw innocence, uncluttered production, and mildly sinister tone. I loved Vanessa's off-tone, passionate singing style and weird pronunciation; Curtis's straight-beat patterns and kick-ass fills; and Randy's dissonant, chimey/choppy guitar style, which had more in common with the progressive, non-bluesy work of Mission of Burma's Roger Miller and Gang of Four's Andy Gill. Lead-off track "Volume" and album-ender "Danger!" represent the band's unique balance perfectly.

In the spring of 1989, the original Pylon lineup performed a surprisingly tight and energetic set of faves at the second annual (and final) Athens Music Festival. It was the first of several "reunion" shows and it rocked. They followed through with several club shows in town and opened for the final leg of R.E.M.'s massive Green tour. A "hits" package, a new studio album titled Chain, and a video on MTV's 120 Minutes followed during this reunion phase.

By 1990, they were even tighter and more confident. I remember one really cool show at the old 40 Watt where they'd decorated the entire stage with white linen. Curtis performed on his white drum kit, and the entire band were dressed in white outfits. They slammed through their early material and a few new cuts, like "Look Alive" (from the album Chain), with Vanessa swirling and dancing and Michael and Randy jerking and bouncing on either side.

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DFA Records re-released Gyrate this fall, re-mastered from the original reels, with the addition of their landmark 1979 debut 7" single "Cool" b/w "Dub" (1979) and unreleased demo track "Functionality." The liner notes were from Fred Schneider, Gang of Four drummer Hugo Burnham, and Michael Stipe.

Gyrate was Pylon and the spirit of the Athens music scene at their very best ... and it seems there's more to come. They recently played a string of reunion shows in Georgia and the Carolinas. Maybe Charleston can catch a glimpse of one of Athens' finest someday soon. In the meantime, turn up the volume.

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