Friday, January 2, 2015


Pilot To Bombardier is back

It was the year 2000. Kurt Cobain has been dead for  six years. “Alternative rock”  -- the self-appointed “successor” to punk -- is shifting. There were still plenty of things to rage against: injustice, inequity, and ---most horrifying of all -- indifference but except for inconsequential hacks like Fred Durst, no one seemed angry anymore. Maybe people got tired of beating dead horses. And maybe some people just grew up a little. Really, what is rock and roll besides the willful denial of maturity? Or (according to graphic novelist Chris Ware)  the “tempting thesis that adolescence is not just another hormonal change but a fun lifestyle that you can willfully perpetuate.”

The music became more considered, more deliberate and less disheveled. This was exemplified by the rivalry of  two biggest-selling punk magazines on the newsstands: the old guard Maximum Rockand Roll and the new emo kids, Punk Planet.  Some called this nu-punk or prog-punk. Me and my trashy rock n’ roll loving pals called it --not without a little derision -- emo.

In its way, though, early emo was just another expression of punk. Please note that I stress “early”, not what it became a few short years later: a copycat style masquerading as genre, and badly at that. Right from the start, emo moved away from choppy Johnny Ramones riffs and returned to the multifaceted invention of pre-alternative bands on labels like 4AD and Merge. It expanded on these loud-soft-loud origins with diatonic call-and-response progressions in major keys.

“For Liam and I,” says Miguel Villareal, “we were just wanting to do something a little more complex than power pop and Sean and Trav presented that outlet.”

Villareal played bass and/or guitar for Pilot To Bombardier, one of the finest ‘burque bands of the day that obliquely fell under the emo label. As much as I dissed emo back then I couldn’t keep away from Pilot shows, which says to me that I may not have been entirely kind or accurate with them back then. In my defense, I did review one of their shows with three words:  “Brilliant and majestic.” And I’ll stand by that.

the four piece: Rhian Batson, Travis Williams, Sean McCullough and Miguel Villarreal

Musically, I’d known Villareal and bassist Liam Kimball through Fever Hot!, a goodtime powerpop band that had just dissolved. Concurrently, drummer Travis Williams and ultra-axman Sean (Sad Baby Wolf, Oktober People) McCullough were calling it quits in their proto-emo band, Roman Candle Choir.

Pilot To Bombardier was fronted by the hard driving Travis Williams, completely caught up in his own world onstage. The way he crouched over his kit and pounded the skins, it was hard to believe he wasn’t whacking himself in the head with those sticks. Guitarist McCullough commanded an heroic array of effect pedals. I recall counting about ten or eleven one night and they weren’t for decoration. The man used them all. At first listen, he seems questioning, searching for the right riff but soon circles back to his first impulse, pouncing upon himself like an anxious wolf biting its own tail.

Before long, Kimball took off for Chicago and his new band South of No North who were  cut from the same emo cloth. Villareal shifted to bass with a markedly syncopated style. Pilot soldiered on as a trio and pulled out all the stops. It got pretty tumultuous on stage with all three of them bouncing around like mad scientists in the throes of (un)holy creation.

The thing  about a three-piece is that no one can fuck around. There’s nothing to hide behind, no shield from your bandmates. A band of three is pretty damn naked, more so than solo because if you lose it, everyone else goes down in flames with you. Not Pilot. They were dynamic. That’s not a glib description but per definition: “various forces operating in any field [and] the way [they] shift or change in relationship to one another” ( Websters New World Dictionary 1976).

This is in line with what Villareal recently told me, “What distinguished us  was our treatment of the music progression with sometimes three different melodies (two guitars and one vocal) which were often layered with effects.”

As with many of their contemporary indie bands, things were getting more melodic but also quite angular. Loud always guitars get me dancing and I was sure I’d throw my back out trying to keep up with all of Pilot’s unusual changes and time signatures.

Lucky you, Pilot is convening for a reunion show this week. Just because the only rocking I’m be doing this week is in a rocking chair by the family fireplace in rural New England is no reason why you shouldn’t go. In fact, I insist because I’m pretty damn sad to miss it. You might even say I’m feeling pretty emo.

Pilot To Bombardier, Starsky, Award Tour
Friday January 2, 2015
Launchpad 618 Central SW
8 pm doors
$ 5

pilot to bombardier to dad

originally appeared in different form in weekly alibi 

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