The Night Pylon Returned (And WUOG Shut Down)
A half-remembered oral history for one of the greatest shows of my life.
Pylon is one of my favorite bands of all time, discovered while watching a VHS copy of documentary Athens, Ga.: Inside/Out at Wuxtry Records in the summer of 2003. I played "Stop It" non-stop on-air at WUOG, the student-run station at University of Georgia, and soon enough, every young DJ also learning about Athens music history couldn't get enough of Gyrate and Chomp, spinning well-worn copies found in the stacks.
On the occasion of the just-announced Pylon Box, I interviewed the three remaining members of Pylon for NPR Music. "Hey, your hair's grown back out," were the first words out of Vanessa's mouth, so I knew it was going to be a good one.
That got me to thinking about the time Pylon played a surprise reunion show on Aug. 5, 2004, which was 16 years ago this month. I shot a roll of film that night (some photos are featured here), and danced until every part of my body was soaked in sweat or someone else's.
But that was also the night that WUOG shut down broadcast so that its DJs could catch the gig. I don't know what it's like today, but back then, going off the air was a big deal: locals would write letters to the alt-weekly, DJs would be penalized, alumni would grumble, Back in my day…! Shutting down the station was the last resort. (One time, the next DJ didn’t show up for a shift and I mentioned that I was getting hungry during a mic break. So Kurt Wood, somewhat legendary record collector and manager of Taco Stand's Milledge Ave. location, offered to bring me a tofu mega burrito, chips & queso and a Coke — I kept spinning 4 more hours so that Taco Stand could keep the music going in the restaurant.)
So here's a miniature, half-remembered oral history from (most of) the folks involved in that decision, their roles at WUOG in parenthesis (I was a DJ and the local music director). In italics, that's me filling in the gaps. Thanks, Haley, for digging up your old Livejournal entry documenting the night! — Lars Gotrich
Word got around town about Pylon's secret reunion show in the late afternoon via text, AIM messages and phone calls. Since UGA classes wouldn't start for another couple weeks, the only folks in Athens were locals and students who stuck around for the summer.
Robi Ragan (DJ): I believe [Pylon guitarist] Randy [Bewley]'s son called into Sound of the City. It was someone’s son, anyway. I'm certain you were my first call or IM.
Sound of the City is WUOG’s twice-a-week local music program; at the time, I hosted on Tuesdays, Robi on Thursdays. Randy Bewley’s son, Adam, then in high school, was a frequent fixture at the station; he was also a friend.
Robi: I played nothing but Pylon for the rest of SOTC and between songs I would say something like “Hull and Hancock." [Editor’s note: Now called Little Kings, that was the bar's location downtown.] The caller asked me to not make it too obvious, and I got the impression the call was not sanctioned.
Michael Lachowski (bassist, Pylon): The way the story was imparted to me is that y'all were allowed to find out. Randy said, "OK, if they promise not to announce it on the air, tell them that, yes, we are playing."
Robi: As for shutting down, we did that at the end of SOTC. I would guess maybe Haley called Alison? That part I’m not sure about.
Haley Zapal (DJ, programming director): I got to the station at around 8-ish with the idea of doing some work, but then I heard that Pylon was playing a secret, surprise show downtown. It wouldn’t have been fair to either of y'all to miss the show, so we said fuck it, and turned off the station.
Alison Taffel (DJ, general manager): Oh, man, I’m sure I said yes to this!
Haley: I'm pretty sure the station came back on immediately after the show.
Vanessa Briscoe Hay (vocalist, Pylon): This is probably the biggest compliment anyone's ever given us.
At some point, I drove down to WUOG in my station wagon to pick up Robi for the show. Haley had already made her way downtown. Several generations of Athens were packed into that bar. [Memory fails, but I seem to remember a story about Michael Stipe, then staying at his NYC home, being in disarray about missing the show. He’d later attend 40 Watt’s NYE party, headlined by Pylon, which covered R.E.M.’s “It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” at the stroke of midnight.] Over capacity, folks spilled out onto the sidewalk, watching the 90-minute set from the windows.
Alison: That night was incredible!
Haley: Hot and sweaty and pushed to the front and jumping, man. I was in heaven when they played "Cool" and "Stop It."
Curtis Crowe (drummer, Pylon): You know, I think that's hands down my favorite show that we ever played. I had so much fun that night.
Michael: I don't know how the performance was as good as it was because we hadn't played to an audience in, like, 15 years.
Curtis: I got to tell you: My son came and he, at the time, was about 13 years old. He and his cousin were sitting alongside the stage just too cool for school. They were just looking around and kind of nodding, whispering, talking to each other. And at the end of the show, I'm cooling off outside. My son comes up to me and I go, "Well, what do you think of the show?" And he goes, "Dad, you guys are an awesome party band." And that was the most heartfelt review I've ever gotten in my life. When you can impress your thirteen-year-old son — that just made my year right there.