Once upon a time, James Hall was New Orleans’ premiere rock star in waiting.
Like a bantamweight hybrid of David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Perry Ferrell, Hall projected dark glamour, decadence and pansexual swagger. In the mid-1990s, he was signed by major label Geffen Records and appeared poised to be the Next Big Thing.
But his disappointing 1996 Geffen debut, “Pleasure Club,” tanked. The label eventually dropped him.
He and longtime bassist Grant Curry then formed a new band, Pleasure Club. They released two crackling good albums that lived up to Hall’s earlier hype, and backed them up with equally explosive live shows.
But by 2005, personal and professional conflict had torn the band apart.
Twelve years later, after much healing, Pleasure Club has reunited, at least part time. They released two new songs digitally on Feb. 16. And after two shows in Atlanta last weekend, Pleasure Club will headline at One Eyed Jacks on Friday; Atlanta’s Five-Eight opens the show. Tickets are $17.
“It still feels like us against them,” Curry said recently. “We were always getting kicked in the teeth and running into roadblocks. Now we have nothing to lose or apologize for. We don’t have to make anyone happy except ourselves and our real fans.
“It sounds strange to say it, but Pleasure Club is having fun.”
That wasn’t always the case. After the Geffen fiasco, Hall and Curry ignited a fresh spark with drummer Michael Jerome and guitarist Marc Hutner as Pleasure Club. “Here Comes the Trick,” released independently in 2001, boasted the hooks, grooves and clarity that the Geffen album lacked, from Hutner's slash-and-churn guitars to Curry's brooding bass to Jerome's ferocious attack, all of it topped by Hall's wail.
The follow-up, 2004’s “The Fugitive Kind,” was just as potent. The explosive single “Hey! Hey! Hey!” gained traction at Atlanta's 99X and other rock radio stations.
But the band couldn’t afford to keep touring. Career frustrations exacerbated tensions between Hall and Curry, dooming the band.
“It was the whole list,” Curry said. “All the problems that musical artists have, we had them. We imploded in a painful fashion.”
Following a “dismal and dark” show in St. Louis, Curry recalled, “Everyone knew it was over.”
The four musicians wouldn’t be in the same room again for the next 12 years.
After Hurricane Katrina, Hall evacuated from New Orleans to Atlanta with his family and never moved back. Curry ran a recording studio near Ponchatoula until he, too, moved to Atlanta in 2010 during a period of personal turmoil.
Eventually, he and Hall began working through their issues.
“We’ve had a lot of time to sort through things together,” Curry said. “We found ourselves in a place where we were at peace with each other. We asked ourselves, ‘Do we have more that we need to do together?’ We did. We’ve gotten beyond the issues of the past and are enjoying a new friendship and artistic partnership.”
By the summer of 2017, they’d started writing new music. Working out of the small production suite Curry leases in an Atlanta recording studio, Pleasure Club recorded two new songs, “Hole In Your Soul” and “Hard-Wired for Pleasure.” “Everybody brought their A game,” Curry said. “It sounds like this band never disbanded.”
They tentatively plan to record an entire album, their first since "The Fugitive Kind" in 2004. “It looks like everybody is interested in that,” Curry said. “We’ve got some real nice creative energy going on. The writing process has been really fluid.”
In addition to the Atlanta and New Orleans reunion shows, they’ll share a bill with ’90s bands Helmet and the Toadies on March 2 in Dallas. More performances are possible.
But reviving Pleasure Club full time is unlikely, given the musicians’ other personal and professional commitments. Hutner works for performing rights organization ASCAP in New York. Jerome is a member of Better Than Ezra and also tours with guitarist Richard Thompson. Hall and Curry, both now 50, have their own family responsibilities in Atlanta.
“It would be like starting from scratch, and that’s not practical for us,” Curry said. “But right now, we’re on fire. We’ll see how these dates go.”
He’s confident Pleasure Club can still be incendiary onstage, even after a 12-year hiatus.
“Will we have the same razor-sharp precision as when we were playing five nights a week for months at a time? No. It will be more raw.
“But every time we stepped onstage, it always felt like it could fall apart at any minute. That was part of the chemistry that made us dangerous and exciting to the cult audience we had.”
With the reunion shows and new songs, “we hope to give them a nice gift.”