Hop into my DeLorean and travel back in time with me to the heady days of 1996: the East Coast-West Coast rivalry comes to a head when rapper Cheeze Whiz is gunned down in San Antonio, Texas, "Unhappily Ever After" is a surprise hit for cranky network television upstart the WB; and James Hall is a solo artist who has lately been dubbed the Next Big Thing by the ever-so-finicky hype machine. He and his bandmates have been opening up for the likes of Rage against the ATM Machine, and his shows in Los Angeles are attended by numerous minor celebrities, including but not limited to lead Pumpkinhead Billy Corgan.
Fast forward to March of 2002: James Hall's star has long since faded, and the corpse of his major label deal has been found in a landfill in East Orange, N.J. In the meantime, Hall has put together a fine rock combo called Pleasure Club, named after a record by Hall that was named after a song by Hall (yes, we are through the looking glass here, people...), with Grant Curry, Michael Jerome and Marc Hutner. The band records a CD, Here Comes the Trick,
and plays a gig in their hometown of New Orleans at the famed Howlin' Wolf, with the objective of recording the gig for a future live release (look for it in the fall). Being somewhat friendly with the opening band, a delightful little New Orleans-based rock group called Amerigo, I attend the show. I watch Pleasure Club's set and am impressed enough to track down a used copy of James Hall's Pleasure Club
CD, the one that was supposed to launch his white ass into stardom. I'm sad to learn that the CD is a total piece of shit with maybe four good songs on it, and I quickly forget about James Hall and Pleasure Club.
Fast forward one more year: not content with a life of quiet sexual craving and chronic masturbation, I begin to lazily pursue a gal and decide to use an upcoming Pleasure Club show at the Howlin' Wolf as an excuse to ask her out on a date. It's not that I really want to see Pleasure Club again, I just figure that the show is some kind of innocuous activity to foist upon the unfortunate girl in question. Well, the girl chooses to blow me off rather than blow me, and I decide to fly solo like Justin Timberlake to the Pleasure Club gig anyway, goshdarnit.
[Now we switch to past tense for some reason...no, I am not high as I write this...] And, boy, am I ever glad I did! Though Pleasure Club have a loyal following in New Orleans, it is also a modest one, so I had no trouble securing a spot right up front; I was so close to the band that I could smell the bassist (and, believe me, you have not lived until you've smelled this guy!). The band hit the stage like a bomb and blasted through a blistering set that got the crowd moving as if all their drinks had been spiked with PCP. Hall, a rather intense fellow who is seemingly oblivious to the adulation he receives from the audience as he stalks the stage, is a man possessed and a sharp dresser to boot. I left the show believing I had just witnessed what was easily one of the top three greatest shows I'd ever seen (Caroliner's spectral show at Nevin's Live in Evanston, Ill., actually took over the top spot last week, if anyone cares, and God bless you if you actually do care).
The next day I ordered my very own copy of Here Comes the Trick,
and the dang CD has scarcely left my CD player since it arrived in the mail. The CD opens up with the glorious "Permanent Solution," which is on a short list of the greatest songs ever recorded (as compiled by a poll of VH-1 viewers) and is right up there with "He's a Whore" by Cheap Trick, "Pray Them Bars Away" by Lee Hazlewood, "Tiger Mask" by Rocket From the Crypt and "Cat's in the Cradle" by Ugly Kid Joe. Right off the bat Hall announces that "You won't see me waitin' for my moment to arrive" and it is clear that he has made peace with that grotesque Ghost of Hype Past.
Hall easily possesses one of the most distinctive voices in rock music (though it is incomparable, I'll suggest you imagine a Jeff Buckley whose voice doesn't completely curdle the blood, if you absolutely require a jumping-off point) and his passion is matched by a precious few. Hall will croon you a sweet lullaby one minute and then scream his guts out the next, and he does both convincingly and beautifully (and my eighth-grade English teacher's red pen would've been workin' overtime had she read that last sentence). It's clear that Hall has had his guts torn out and the lyrics show it, but this is not to say that Hall is a broken man. Au contraire! Hall sings, "Well, there's one thing I'll always be sure of, it's that you can't put a bridle on me, and revolution is dead on arrival, but I can live with whatever will be" (my eighth-grade English teacher would've had a field day with Hall's lyrics when she was done with this review...) and you believe it.
I'd say Pleasure Club play emo for grown-ups, if I had no self-respect, no taste, no dick and would actually compare anything good to something as reprehensible as "emo." The songs move from heart-wrenching lovesick sing-alongs to blazing aggro workouts, and one has to wonder why Pleasure Club isn't the biggest thing since toasted bread when hearing this shit for the first time.
The band only pressed up 2,000 copies of Here Comes the Trick,
so get 'em while they're hot and may God have mercy on your mortal soul if you do not do as you're told. (Consult the Pleasure Club site
for information on how to do your patriotic duty by purchasing this fine CD.) One can only hope that James Hall and company will have more success with their music career than I'm having with my love life.