Chat Pile Were a Thrilling Enigma in Toronto

Lee's Palace, September 23

With Consumer and Nerver

Photo: Stephen McGill

BY Marko DjurdjićPublished Sep 24, 2023

Chat Pile is a strange and cavernous enigma. Everything about the Oklahoma City quartet — whose members, vocalist Raygun Busch, guitarist Luther Manhole, bassist Stin and drummer Cap'n Ron all go by pseudonyms — feels wholly unpretentious, earnest and blunt. While many publications have described their music as sludge, that's a limiting tag for this band. Sure, they're definitely "sludgey," but they also incorporate elements of doom, (post)-hardcore, post-rock, noise, alternative and stoner metal and spoken word.

This eclectic sensibility is reflected not only in their compositions, but in their on-stage presentation (all four members look like they play in different bands), as well as their merch and album visuals (take their perfectly grotesque — and all but indecipherable — logo as proof). At their sold-out show at Lee's Palace on Saturday night, this lack of pretension was on full display as the band finally brought its cacophonous musical blend to Toronto.

The torrent of noise started early with openers Consumer, who hail from Boston. The band played in front of a flickering screen showing black and green code, pixelated imagery, collaged commercials, and unsettling computer animations, fitting visuals for their doomy hybrid of synth-flecked noise rock and breakneck hardcore.

They were followed by middle child Nerver from Kansas City, who delivered a staggering wall of stoney riffs and furious grooves. Their pounding tracks, which are equally indebted to the Melvins and '90s post-hardcore, do a number on the cerebellum. They crushed both it and the audience, and deserve your undivided attention ASAP. 

Chat Pile came out to a rapturous welcome, and the set that followed was messy and deafening, the band's pummelling compositions hitting both high and low ends and rattling the piled-up tall boys throughout the venue.

There's an understated sense of danger during their set; it is tense and aggressive and uncomfortable…at least while the songs are being played. This certainly isn't a complaint against the band: this is clearly exactly what they're going for, and that's exactly what we're all here to see. It is loud and unsettling and overwhelming, a maelstrom of distortion and bludgeoning angularity.

Between songs, Busch talked about all of his favourite movies and shows filmed in Toronto. It was a welcome respite from the unrelenting intensity of the music, which churned and screeched while Busch growled and speak-sang over the raging discord. Live, the band can best be described as "churning" — the crowd never stopped moving, and neither did the band, dipping their charred ladle into a veritable bouillabaisse of heavy genres. The formidable rhythm section of Stin and Cap'n Ron is the band's not-so-secret weapon, delivering a punishing groove while guitarist Manhole's deranged riffs helped deliver the freight train straight to the frontal lobe

The set leaned heavily on last year's excellent God's Country — one of Exclaim!'s best albums of 2022 and the band's unassuming midwestern charm was present throughout. Busch came on stage barefoot, stalked his place at centre stage (all while nonchalantly keeping his non-mic'd hand in his pocket), and took his shirt off as soon as the devastating strains of "Slaughterhouse" came to a close. His soaring bellow was juxtaposed by his unassuming and seemingly lackadaisical stage presence: he rarely, if ever, looked at the crowd, choosing to stare either at the floor, or above us, at the ceiling. He bantered, but almost entirely about the aforementioned media references, yet his vocals never wavered.

The band even played a new song, "Funny Man, a tantalizing morsel of what's to come on future releases. It featured a hi-hat heavy drum part and sharp groove reminiscent of all your favourite nü-metal songs. Unsurprisingly, its screeching pull-off riffs and crashing drums generated one of the most energetic crowd responses of the night.

Throughout the set, as stage divers surfed the outstretched hands of the devoted, the surging crowd on the floor never relented, embracing the band's punishing grooves and sending them right back through sways, flails and crunches. There wasn't a single moment when the crowd didn't react with energy or rapture. The band, in turn, never flinched during crowd interactions, which speaks to their sincere connection to their fans. They welcomed crowd requests and effortlessly navigated stage intrusions (unfortunately, by the end of the set, Manhole was clearly getting fed up with people stepping on his pedal board. Show some respect and watch the stompboxes, folks, damn!), leaving us with the impression that our presence was not only necessary, but actually appreciated. This certainly ain't no half-hearted "Helloooooo Toronto."

They also had the shortest encore break in concert history; it was definitely less than 30 seconds, a sneer at extended pauses and exaggerated posturing. The last song, "Wicked Puppet Dance," whipped the crowd into a euphoric frenzy — a welcome final trip straight to oblivion — before the abrupt ending brought the swirling masses to a halt. A quick wave and "thank you," and the crowd was sent back out into the cool night, all sweat and smiles and undoubtedly ringing ears.

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