Hislopalooza (Phoenix, 3.10.10)

Posted on April 22, 2010


“I’m living the most local life I’ve ever lived right now in Dorchester,” says Chris Hislop, bespectacled guitarist in the long-running Boston band Piles. “Walking to work in the morning, walking home. I love it.”

We’re sitting in a booth at the Middle East and tracing the course of music worship from big — Sonic Youth, in Hislop’s case — to everyday personalities. He found his first homegrown idol in Lou Barlow.

“I was in the front row for Folk Implosion at the River Rave when I was 16, and I’d made a shirt that said, ‘I Love Lou B.’ When he saw it, he just sort of grimaced and walked away.” Since then, Hislop has approached things on another level.

It wasn’t so long ago that Piles played their “last show ever” and newlyweds Hislop and Alina took off for Chicago. Just one year later, however, the couple were packing it back up to settle into their childhood neighborhood on Dot Ave. Hislop reinstated the band with drummer Trever Smith (with whom he’s been playing since high school) and grabbed a gig at a family deli.

His younger brothers, Jonathan and Jordan, have excellent bands of their own nowadays (Henry Gale and Nassy), and both Hislop and Smith have new projects (Marconi and Archelon). This growing cluster of family bands has extended to include new neighbors You, Lion, a group of pure-bred Dorchester natives whom Hislop met in his South Boston rehearsal building as they were readying their debut EP, End It on the Bridge. If Hislop and company are one big (loud) happy family, “Hislopalooza” (this Saturday at O’Brien’s) is like the big backyard reunion — as well as You, Lion’s record-release party.

Drummer Al Baker, a plumber by trade, recalls how he first bumped into Hislop. “He found out I was from around here and said, ‘Oh, you know the Bakers?’ I said, ‘Do I know ’em? I’m one of ’em.’ ” Turns out the Bakers practically run the neighborhood. “There were like two of them in every grade,” says Hislop.

You, Lion — Baker, vocalist/bassist Ian Johnson, and guitarist Terry Amiro — grew up going to St. Margaret’s in Dorchester and the Boston Boy Choir at St. Paul in Harvard Square, eventually meeting guitarist Jamie Darvishian through a friend. Soon, the classically trained Baker and Johnson were mixing it up with Sigur Rós and Björk records. Hislop apes Baker’s accent — “After hearing them, I asked if they liked Björk by chance, and Al was like, ‘Aw yeah, I love Byawk, kid!’ Wow, okay.”

You, Lion’s guitars tiptoe in and out of dissonance, with Baker driving things with a tidy arsenal of compact post-hardcore beats. Johnson’s vocals are a love-it-or-hate-it thing — insistently melodic, but always up in Thom Yorke territory, wandering over knotty rhythms in a spaced-out whelp. It’s inventive, inward-looking indie prog, done with a brazen lack of transplant scenester self-consciousness. (Just check their beach-party video on Facebook.)

They fit in nicely with the Hislop crew. The Phoenix has been singing the praises of brother Jonathan’s post-rock Henry Gale lately, and Nassy’s mathy fits keep getting better. And of course, there’s Piles, a three-piece for now in the middle of another of their traditional bass-player crunches (current guy Dana Fowler is bolting): rivet-gun guitars, sprawling stream-of-conscious writing, pissed-off non sequitur gang vocals. Can you tell they’ve been enamored of Boston’s smart-ass contingent of indie rock since forever?

Hislop spent his early years in Dorchester before his family moved out to Pembroke, but he’d head back into town to see then-girlfriend Alina. “I idolized bands like Helms who built scenes out of their own communities. I brought CDs home and said, ‘Here’s how I want our drums to sound.’ Jonathan took them to school, and soon there were seventh-graders on the South Shore buying Wicked Farleys patches.”

This Saturday’s event will be a trip down memory lane, a bold look into the future, and a remarkable show of unconditional home-town love, the kind Hislop’s learned to dig for — though gently. He did run into Barlow one more time. “I asked if he remembered me from the River Rave show — ‘I had the Lou B. shirt!’ He paused, looked up, and just said, ‘Oh yeah.’ And nothing else.”

That’s all right. That guy moved to LA anyway.

Original article appeared in the Boston Phoenix here.