Despite failing to equal the commercial success or cross-cultural impact of their Athens, Georgia, compatriots R.E.M. and the B-52's, Pylon’s influence on the city’s legendary music scene proved just as pronounced — the group’s propulsive, angular jangle pop sound resonated not only within the Athens creative community, but throughout the American pop underground of the ’80s, and though more heard-of than actually heard, their role as elder statesmen of the alternative rock explosion is unassailable. Their first two albums — 1980’s Gyrate and 1983′s Chomp — are both essential documents of the nascent American independent rock era, while 2016′s Pylon Live is a fine document of how the band sounded on-stage.
Naming themselves after the ubiquitous orange traffic cones found in most cities, Pylon was founded by guitarist Randy Bewley and bassist Michael Lachowski, University of Georgia art students inspired by the likes of Television, the Ramones, and Talking Heads; the twosome soon sublet practice space in a studio loft rented by local artist Curtis Crowe, who quickly signed on to play drums. After auditioning a series of vocalists, the band finally settled on fellow UGA student Vanessa Briscoe, whose distinctive yelping style ideally complemented the music’s jagged guitars and martial rhythms.
The quartet made their live debut in March 1979; that summer, the B-52's became the darlings of the New York scene thanks to their breakthrough hit “Rock Lobster,” and their success paved the way for Pylon to make their own N.Y.C. debut, with Philadelphia and Boston appearances following before the school year resumed. Pylon’s debut single, “Cool,” appeared on the dB's label in early 1980, earning strong critical notices and emerging as a major underground dance hit; that summer, they issued their debut LP, Gyrate, and also opened for the B-52's in New York’s Central Park. Pylon toured regularly leading up to — and in the wake of — their sophomore effort, 1983′s Chomp, but dissatisfied with the finished LP, and also disheartened by an abortive tour in support of U2, the band dissolved.
In the group’s absence, Athens emerged as the nexus of the American underground, thanks largely to the snowballing success of R.E.M., who regularly cited Pylon as a major influence on their music; in fact, when in 1987 Rolling Stone named R.E.M. “America’s Best Band,” drummer Bill Berry argued the honor actually belonged to Pylon, even though the group had disbanded four years earlier. Their posthumous recognition, in tandem with the impending release of dB's Hits compilation, convinced Pylon to re-form in 1988 after the band opened for R.E.M. on their Green tour.
In 1990, they released their third full-length album, Chain. However, with Bewley’s decision to leave the lineup, Pylon again called it quits, playing their final show at Athens’ famed 40 Watt Club on November 22, 1991. Less than two decades later, the DFA label expanded and reissued Gyrate (as Gyrate Plus, 2007) and Chomp (as Chomp More, 2009).
Tragically, on February 25, 2009, Bewley died after suffering a heart attack while driving his van. In 2016, the band delivered the archival concert album Pylon Live. Recorded at their final 1983 show at the Mad Hatter in Athens, Georgia, the album was released on what would have been Bewley’s 61st birthday. In November 2020, New West Records issued Pylon Box, an ambitious collection that included newly remastered editions of Gyrate and Chomp, a disc of single sides and rarities, and a previously unreleased 1979 recording of Pylon performing live in their rehearsal space. ~ Jason Ankeny