Pile at The Burlington Bar – 10/10/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)

by Steven Spoerl

Pile X

After the start of the week was gifted a prolific run of great new content, Wednesday kept the trend alive. There was more than enough to warrant another two paragraphs- but today will be devoted to a live review, so, for convenience’s sake, three of today’s strongest item in each category will be listed now and the rest will be covered tomorrow. For full songs, it’s hard to do better than Viet Cong’s darkly hypnotic post-punk bruiser “Continental Shelf“, while nobody bested Roomrunner’s absolute ripper of an EP- Separate– in the full stream category. Kittyhawk rounded out things with their visually striking clip for “Welcome Home”, which probes darker territory than the music might suggest. Now, with all of that out of the way, onto the feature event: site favorites Pile and their show last Friday at The Burlington Bar in Chicago.

Pile are best defined as an elusive band. It’s difficult to pin them on a spectrum or predict their movements; entire songs play out like sweeping overtures, taking sharp lefts when it’d be easier to just keep going straight ahead. While their tour schedule makes sure that it’s relatively easy to find the band playing somewhere, it’s the music that becomes the dominant force in the band-listener connection- a feat more rare than most realize. So, while the band managed to overcome not one but two major van issues (not having one and then having their loaner break down), their absence leading up to the show added a weird mythos to the entire experience. Granted, most of that time they were holed up in Omaha recording a new record- and if the band was clicking for that session as hard as they were at Burlington, everyone’s in for something spectacular.

Opening the show were locals Ling Ling and Fake Limbs, who were forced into a brief delay and a slot switch due to some extenuating circumstances. Fake Limbs delivered a characteristically blistering set, proving for the zillionth time over that they’re one of the Midwest’s most exciting (and most intriguing) hardcore acts. Pulling mostly from last year’s masterful The Power of Patrician Upbringing, vocalist Stephen Sowley led his band through their left-field noise-indebted racket with an abundance of charisma both on and (mostly) off stage, while everyone flashed serious chops throughout a set of genuinely great songs. Engaging throughout, their set had no weak moments and when the guitar cut out in the very last stretch of the last song, it somehow managed to feel appropriate- one half-expected to see smoke billowing out of the cab’s grill.

Ling Ling had a lot to follow after Fake Limbs essentially dismantled the expectations of the uninitiated and set an obscenely high bar. For their part, the band held their own through committed performances that offered a different take on hardcore, this time more rooted in the clean, metallic sounds that Shellac made their stock and trade. Kicking up the levels of  unabridged aggression, their set kept a pace that kept most of their audience involved- though by the end of their curiously long set, it was clear that some of Burlington’s patrons were growing increasing anxious for the appearance of the main act. While Ling Ling did manage to bow out on the strongest note of their set, there was no doubt that this was a night that belonged to Pile.

After the necessary set up and take down, Pile took the dimly-lit stage and- with no fanfare- tore into a jaw-dropper of a set that left no shred of doubt that Pile are a band worth catching as many times as possible. Song after song, Pile offered an embarrassment of riches that became welcome reminders of their discography’s deeply impressive scope. The audience seemed to warm up with the band as they plunged further into their set; by the time the chill-inducing 1-2 punch of “Special Snowflakes” and “Pets” hit, a previously stagnant Burlington had become a heaving mass of bodies, railing into each other with no intent of physical violence but caught up in a shared moment of unbridled catharsis. Following that turning point, the band reciprocated the audience’s energy by growing increasingly animated- and impassioned- while continuing to blaze through a set of songs that’d make most aspiring musicians blush. It was an incredibly potent reminder of Pile’s unlikely, but entirely deserved, impact. This is one of the most interesting bands going today and the fact that their music is forging such visceral connections within their audience makes them a band that’s worth embracing as tightly as possible.

Below, watch a clip of the band playing “Pets” and scan through a photo gallery of Pile’s headlining set.