James Hall of Pleasure Club is intense. Sitting in a coffee shop with a bag of thrift store purchases under his chair, he seems distracted, but even distracted there's the feeling he could toss the table and put his finger in your face at any moment. This isn't news to people who have seen Hall in concert. Live, the New Orleanian performs as if his life depends on getting his thoughts across, throwing everything, including his body, into the songs. He found the most appropriate context for his dramatic presentation in 2000 when he and former bandmate/bassist Grant Curry joined with guitarist Marc Hutner and drummer Michael Jerome, both Los Angeles natives, to form Pleasure Club.
A combination of glam, punk and funk, the band's first album, Here Comes the Trick, was initially released independently in 2001, then rereleased in 2003 paired with a live disc, Live: Out of the Pulpit (Purified). Recorded at The Howlin' Wolf, the disc features highlights of the first album and three songs that date back to Hall's days as a solo artist. Now that the band has a new album, The Fugitive Kind (Purified), "I have to get my head around the fact that we're going to be doing shows soon," Hall says.
"It's not unlike the cartoon about the chicken that hears the bell, and every time he hears the bell, he comes out boxing," Hall continues. "Every time I hear a particular beat or a particular pulse, I do go into a certain mode and I don't really think about if I look ridiculous or not. I'm fortunate. I don't hold myself up to that kind of scrutiny as a performer because I tend to go to a ," Hall pauses to think, "id -- or idiotic, which is where 'id' came from anyway -- mode when I get into performance. There is a higher intellect a band can tap into by being in that place and not thinking about what they're doing."
That unconscious place is one populated by characters. "Cops and Criminals," for instance, is sung from the perspective of a shut-in, while "Streetwalkers Anthem" is a song of Airline Drive prostitute pride. "I like the concept of pride in a profession, even though it's a profession I'm not sure I'd have much pride in," he explains. "Though working 15 or 16 cars in a night is an accomplishment of sorts.
"There're several different character voices you can sing through including your natural, speaking voice, which is what a song like 'You Want Love' is in," Hall says. His voice on the track, an uneasy ballad with a metronomic piano part, is also a little reminiscent of that of Bauhaus' Peter Murphy. The piano part subtly connects the song to the rest of The Fugitive Kind by picking up the insistent nature of the arrangements. The album doesn't have the exuberance of Here Comes the Trick, when the band often sounded excited by seeing what it could do, but it's a more coherent, streamlined journey through some emotionally dark places.
The result is sometimes described as "goth," and though it doesn't seem appropriate at first, Hall doesn't shy away from the description. "Are you kidding? I love it," he says, but with qualifications. "You can say 'goth' and someone will think of Marilyn Manson," he explains. "When I think of 'goth,' I'm thinking of Siouxsie and the Banshees' Juju, (Bauhaus') The Sky's Gone Out. I'm thinking of specific albums. I'm not thinking of the skit on Saturday Night Live. I'm not thinking about Christian Death. I don't think that was ever good."
The Grand Ole Opry so defined country music that people forget about Shreveport's Louisiana Hayride, which first aired on KWKH in 1948. The Hayride was less concerned with tradition and booked artists who used electric instruments. Elvis Presley played Louisiana Hayride when the Opry wouldn't touch him, and it was instrumental in exposing him to the rest of the South. Recently, Scena Records released Johnny Horton Live Recordings From the Louisiana Hayride and George Jones Live Recordings From the Louisiana Hayride, and each disc captures the singer becoming the artist he became. In Horton's case, the early songs show him to be an excellent singer with a feel for rockabilly, but he sang covers of Hank Williams and other hits of the day. The second half of the collection has the historical songs he was known for, but they seem like novelties next to "Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor." On the other hand, George Jones gets more interesting as his voice and delivery mature. Because the last track, "When the Grass Grows Over Me," is from 1969, the album focuses on the rockabilly and old-country Jones, and if there's a disappointment it's that one of the few places where the sound is sub-par is during a rollicking "White Lightning."
- Pleasure Club prepares to start touring after the release of The Fugitive Kind.