By Gabriel Mathews
Having had a really awful time the last time I went to a show at ultra-covert squat venue the Black Lodge, I’ve been wary of shows there ever since. The place seems designed to draw the type of intentionally impoverished youths who sneer at the very notion of creature comforts while playing expensive guitars and smelling bad.
That said, there’s no way I was going to pass up this show. I discovered Pile’s music a few weeks back, and I’ve listened to almost nothing else since. The Boston band’s completely idiosyncratic style finds old country/blues basics trashed through a post-hardcore blender, and then spiced with classical-esque chord progressions that you just don’t really hear in contemporary music. Their two most recent albums (out of five, not three, as much of the music press seems to think), 2012’s Dripping and last month’s You’re Better Than This testify to their immense skill, while cementing their reputation as a “band’s band” — Pile have an incredibly devoted national following, made up largely of fellow musicians. Chalk it up to the ease with which they execute strikingly odd melodic turns, rhythmic shifts, and their incredible sense of dynamics. Add to this frontman Rick Maguire’s brilliantly deranged lyrics about playground perverts, demon lovers, and wet dreams about second grade teachers and you have a band with an immense amount of appeal to a very specific set of people. Those people care deeply about what Pile is up to, and have helped them achieve their reputation for transcendentally amazing shows.
Slow Code started off the proceedings kind of poorly. Their musicianship certainly wasn’t the problem, and had I not read that this was their first show ever on the facebook event, I never would’ve guessed. Slow Code simply doesn’t make very good music. Their blend of po-faced emo vocals/lyrics with ultra-drop-tuned metal-esque chugging feels uninspired and uninteresting. I honestly can’t say a whole lot more about these guys. I didn’t like it.
Heavy Petting fared quite a bit better. The three-piece’s brand of instrumental rock is something we don’t see a whole lot of anymore. The title of their recent cassette, If They Are Not Yet Dead, They Are Living Still seems like a nod to instrumental-rock heroes Tortoise, but to limit Heavy Petting to that analogy would be reductive. Long, grooving passages gave way to Russian Circles-like bursts of heft and noise, impeccably controlled feedback alternated with beautiful fingerpicking. The set was fairly transfixing, not least because this band might be one of the tightest I’ve ever seen. Each member is incredibly skilled, and they navigate the rhythmic transitions that move their songs along with such effortless grace that it’s hard to find anything to criticize outside of their bassist’s overly Flea-like bent-knee grooving. Here’s to more Heavy Petting.
Then it was time for Pile. I want to reiterate how incredibly excited I was for this set. Dripping and YBTT are such intricate and absorbing listens that I’ve kind of had no cause to listen to anything else since I found them, outside of Pile’s own 2010 record, the extra-heavy Magic Isn’t Real. I’ve watched as much live footage I could find, so I wasn’t surprised to find bassist Matt Connery center-stage, back to the crowd so as to better lock in with beast-man drummer Kris Kuss, who provides some of the most awesome drum-face I’ve ever seen. I assume guitarist Matt Becker has yet to adopt the rest of the band’s “quit your job, tour forever” philosophy, because he was absent, replaced by Yazan Fahmawi, guitarist of Radiator King, whose Frank Zappa-inspired locks and facial hair, along with his lefty Flying V lent a theatricality to the regular-dude vibes of the rest of the band that was perfectly incongruous.
Pile tore through a tragically quick set, kicking it off with YBTT’s fantastic one-two punch of openers “The World Is Your Motel” and “Mr. Fish.” Surprisingly, the only other song they played from the new record that they’re ostensibly touring was ripping lead single “#2 Hit Single.” Outside of this, the band veered way back into the past, pulling what I think I recognized as “Pervert” off of 2009’s Jerk Routine and a couple of Magic cuts, fan-favorite “Pets” (which features lyrics about having sex with an ape) and the almost-classic-rock stomper “Came As A Glow.” Highlights for me, and I think everyone else, were the two Dripping tracks, “Baby Boy” and set-closer “Bump A Grape,” which rocked so hard I wasn’t even that sad that they didn’t play the legendary “Prom Song” or gorgeous YBTT closer “Appendicitis.”
Some mix issues aside (turn up your guitar, Rick!) Pile’s set was about as flawless as I could have hoped. One of the most thrilling things about seeing them is the utter lack of pretension on display. Maguire is so strikingly down-to-earth that to watch these self-eviscerating lyrics come out of his mouth is to experience a weird sense of empathy—you’re struck by the fact that we’re really all pretty fucked up, in the end, not just the lonery spooky-looking dudes with intense haircuts and drawn faces. The relatability and disunity of Pile’s image (Kuss is a gargantuan bearded teddy bear, Connery a patch-covered metalhead with super-baggy pants and a Castro cap) helps to universalize what would otherwise be pretty exclusionary music in its technical virtuosity and disturbing lyrics. Watching them live, you can’t help but feel that Pile is everyone, and everyone is Pile.
A footnote, for emphasis: one of my show-going companions, Ezra, who’s also the drummer in my band, is from Boston and played a house show there with Pile four years ago with his old band. After the set, he approached Rick, hardly remembering the details of the show himself, but hoping together they could suss it out. Rick seemed stoked to reminisce, and remembered every detail, from location, to the original name of Ezra’s band, to the part where the cops shut the show down. This is just so Pile.