Live: Pylon at the Mercury Lounge
photos by Karan Rinaldo
Pylon frontlady Vanessa Briscoe Hay has a nonchalant hostility found only in substitute teachers and unsung post-punk vocalists. She’s standing up there all polite and demure, quietly absorbing the adoring whoops of the jovial fortysomethings that comprise her sold-out Mercury Lounge crowd, whistle hanging around her neck, as though she just finished refereeing a JV basketball game. And suddenly she starts screeching, a violent, amelodic, oddly appealing rasp, shifting between declarative statements (“We eat dub for breakfaaaaast! We eat dub for breakFAAAAAST!”) and polite suggestions (“Read a book!”). Occasionally she indulges in some goofy, hair-tossing air-guitar windmills or pogoes about the stage for a spell, but she’s most effective when immobile, casual, a little spaced-out, lulling you into a false sense of security, and then, GAHHHWRHHRHHHW, she’s snarling like a feral cat with a gym sock stuck on its head.
Tight Athens, Georgia, bros from way back when, Pylon are routinely praised for playing essentially the same role oh, say, Mudhoney played in Seattle—totally raw scene originators beloved by sister bands way way way more slick and poppy and famous. Gyrate Plus, a value-added first-time-on-CD reprise of their 1980 debut album (out now on DFA, but of course), basically sounds like the “There go the stingrays! (Whoop whoop whoop whoop!)” section of “Rock Lobster” stretched out for an hour or so, and its easy to trace the stern, stiff, gnarly riffs straight from R.E.M. to Sleater-Kinney. What those bands added to this racket is obvious: Vanessa is a far better frontwoman than a singer, but she knows what the role requires, when to bare her fangs and when to smile like she means it. “Feast on My Heart” hits hardest this evening, the surly hook burying itself a little deeper than usual, the bass and drums grumping about in impeccably militant lockstep, the fortysomething masses shaking their cosmic things with Awkward White Folks abandon. And Vanessa looms over it all, an atypical girl with both hands on the bad one. Like Chuck Norris, she doesn’t sleep. She waits.
Pylon plays the Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight, November 8