Pylon Reenactment Society just keeps getting better. The Athens, GA band is led by original Pylon singer Vanessa Briscoe-Hay and was formed as a tribute to her former band (see our Pylon Podcast at tinyurl.com/zubcrazy), but as they have continued, PRS has started to write plenty of their own original music. After taking the stage at The Earl, a small and cozy club in East Atlanta with great sound, they revved up ‘Beep’ from Pylon’s Chomp LP and then went into a new song, called ‘Compression.’
Vanessa is a fearless and wonderful frontwoman, prowling the stage barefoot, and using her amazing voice to great effect, from the nasty growl she can get on ‘Cool’ and ‘Dub’ (the next two songs in the set) to the sexy purr she uses on songs like ‘Crazy.’ Guitarist Jason NeSmith was amazing on ‘Cool,’ and played the old Pylon material with reverence, but some of the new material like ‘Educate Me’ and ‘Twister’ he adopted a more Andy Gill (Gang Of Four) style that was amazing. I even heard a few whole guitar chords! In my mind, the secret weapon in PRS is the outstanding bassist Kay Stanton, who I just saw a few weeks ago playing with Oh Ok. She is a demon on the bass, always solid with the perfect tone, and having so much fun. Watching her, I realized that ‘Dub’ is just an open G note repeated through the whole song! She also killed the bass on the single ‘Messenger’ (tinyurl.com/zubmessenger).
Keyboardist Damon Denton is a welcome addition, providing great atmospheric tones, percussion, and cheerleading the band through their dance party vibe. Drummer Joe Rowe is as solid as they get, especially shining on ‘Crazy,’ (original Pylon drummer Curtis Crowe was in the audience), and getting the dancing going on ‘Danger.’ For the last four tunes of the set, PRS played two great new songs, ‘Twister’ (about the game) and ‘I’ll Let You Know,’ a more sweet, meditative song with a nice guitar solo. They cleaned up the place with ‘Feast On My Heart’ (a Pylon tune my band The Beef People always played) and ‘Stop it’ (“Don’t rock and roll, no no no no”). This is a great band, true to their post-punk roots, genuinely fun and inclusive. Can’t wait to hear a new record.
The Bongos have always been one of my favorite bands. They are the leaders of the Hoboken ‘Maxwell’s’ scene from the 80’s, along with the dB’s, Feelies, Raybeats, Bush Tetras, and Fleshtones. Their first record Drums Along The Hudson is a pure power-pop classic, and their later period material was big on MTV, like ‘Numbers With Wings.’ I wasn’t really sure why the original Bongos were reuniting for a show in Atlanta, but I was glad to be there. Using PRS’s gear, they took the stage and exploded into ‘In The Congo.’ For a bunch of older guys, they had the energy and exuberance of twenty-somethings. And I must say, The Bongos looked great. Drummer Frank Giannini was killing his kit in a smart suit and beret. Guitarist James Mastro looked like a central casting NJ Italian guy: pork pie hat and bowling type shirt. Bassist Rob Norris had a serious Wilhem Defoe vibe. And then there was bandleader Richard Barone. He always had the McCartney ‘cute’ looks. And he’s still got ‘em, Paul. Jet black hair, impeccably suited, with Elvis Costello’s Trust era glasses, he was a vision with his Gibson Les Paul Special (TV Yellow, of course). And The Bongos were skinny, really skinny, all of them. Don’t they come from the land of Chicken Parm? A bunch of great looking guys.
All that doesn’t matter if they didn’t deliver, but they did. The energy and precision of their seventeen song set was astounding. Barone sang the high parts like he never aged, the soloing was tremendous, and the rhythm section completely solid. They tore through a great deal of Drums Along The Hudson, including ‘The Bulrushes,’ ‘Video Eyes,’ ‘Glow In The Dark,’ ‘Telephoto Lens,’ and the very Feelies-like ‘Three Wise Men.’ They did a song from their Phantom Train LP called ‘My Wildest Dreams,’ which was very strong.
During the show, we heard that Richard Barone’s Mom and other family were in the house. His 91 year old mom was right up front with us. What a gas! There was a very atmospheric version of ‘Sweet Blue Cage’ that featured Mastro and Barone on dueling E-Bows (a handheld device that makes a guitar string sustain indefinitely). Then they did a spirited version of Iggy Pop’s ‘Funtime’ which seemed perfect for The Bongos. Towards the end of the set, they did ‘Barbarella,’ a crowd favorite and great singalong. They ended the set with their incredibly good cover of T-Rex’s ‘Mambo Sun.’
For the encore, they invited all of Pylon Reenactment Society (and Curtis Crowe) onstage and Barone duetted with Vanessa on a great version of Bowie’s ‘Heroes.’ It was a sweet and transcendent moment. They ended up with the wonderful ‘Numbers With Wings,’ the bass and drums taut and supple at the same time and Barone’s vocal performance just beautiful.
One postscript to the show, I did speak with all The Bongos after the show, except Richard (who was kind of mobbed) and I must say all three guys were thoughtful, and genuinely nice. I felt like I had attended a special event. This is the show of the year so far in 2020!
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