Pile Outshines Palm, Offers Sincere Take on Rock and Roll

Owen Harrington

Pile provided Oberlin with a much-needed dose of sincere rock and roll this past Thursday at the ’Sco. The Allston, MA-based band, an oft-cited influence for many other alternative rock bands of today — including Krill, who played at Oberlin last semester — has received lots of attention recently for its catchy riffs, quality songwriting and heavy sound. I set out to experience Pile first-hand and see if the band really is worthy of the dedicatory Krill suite “Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears.”

I entered the ’Sco amid whispers that the opening band, Palm, was going to outshine Pile. As the band walked on stage, I noted how similar its members looked to Oberlin students — they attended Bard College — and knew almost immediately what to expect: noisy rock and roll with a noticeable ’90s post-rock/post-hardcore streak. As soon as Palm started its set, my expectations were met, though that is not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable. Palm’s four members had quite obviously spent a lot of time practicing, as their music was precise and their timing impeccable. In many ways, they echoed the rhythmic guitar counterpoint of bands like This Heat and Slint. My biggest problem with their music was that it did not strike me as unique. They wore their influences a little too much on their sleeves, and I was left desiring some thing more than a band that worships its idols. They had all the technical qualities of bands like Television and Polvo, but did not add many new ideas to the table. This, combined with lackluster, nearly melody-less vocals, left me unsatisfied. It’s not that Palm played an unsuccessful set. It is a very talented band that composes interesting music, but what I heard wasn’t unique enough to get me excited to hear more, and the music’s complexity felt self-serving.

After Palm wrapped up its set, it was time for the main event of the night. Unlike with Palm, Pile’s appearance was different from what one typically sees at Oberlin: The band members looked how you’d expect rock musicians to look. Pile even had a guitarist who looked like Frank Zappa and played a Flying V guitar. If there is one thing I can respect, it is someone who can play a Flying V without a hint of irony. Much like Palm, Pile’s appearance accurately foreshadowed the performance its members gave. From the first song to the last, Pile rocked hard. The music featured catchy riffs, unrelenting guitar solos, pounding drums and the right bit of roughness around the edges. I’m not going to say Pile is an incredibly distinctive band that is changing the sound of modern alternative rock, but I will say I have a lot of respect for them. In a music scene made up of predominantly young musicians trying too hard to experiment, Pile stands out as a beacon of simplicity.

Perhaps what I enjoyed most about Pile’s show was that its members seemed so proud of their own music. They were actually having fun on stage, not suffering for their art or acting ironically unattached and distant. Each song they offered was simply a well-crafted rock track delivered in the way that it was meant to be. It was hard not to have an enjoyable time while Pile did its thing, as it felt like its members wanted us to. Pile’s particular hard rock sound has been done many times before. What makes Pile special is that its members just want to play fun, quality music. They are the band that alternative music needs right now — one that provides a bit of sincerity. I would certainly go to another Pile show if the opportunity presented itself, if not for the tunes then for the reminder that there are still musicians out there who have a sense of fun and humility toward their music.