I thought that young people were into Skrillex or other hip electronica these days, but there were a lot of them already forming a long line before 8 pm in front of the Henry Fonda theater, where the Portland-based band Blind Pilot was headlining on Saturday night. There is nothing electronics or hip about Blind Pilot, but seeing the large crowd visibly composed of hardcore fans, I would say they are headed for success thanks to already two albums filled with indie-pop-folk melodies and lush harmonies.
There were two impressive things during the show. First the complete silence coming from the crowd, as everyone was religiously listening to the music and in particular focusing on Israel Nebeker’s vocals: even in the relatively large Henry Fonda theater, the show sounded completely intimate and his sweet croon was the center of attraction, especially on songs such as ‘Oviedo’. Secondly, the members of Blind Pilot had surrounded themselves with a multitude of antic instruments on stage, some of them rarely seen such as a mountain dulcimer, a banjo, a trumpet or even a vibraphone.
However, traveling along the folk and quiet road did not mean they couldn’t reach a full sound, certainly well-served by this abundance of music instruments, played by the six of them, even seven at one point when they were joined by a member of one the opening bands. To the cheering of a very enthusiastic crowd, they opened their set with the gentle and soothing melody of ‘Always’ off their 2011 ‘We Are The Tide’, and from this, they ended up playing all the songs from this album, intertwined with seven other songs off their debut and beloved album ‘3 Rounds and A Sound’. Everyone looked happy to be there, the audience and the musicians, at ease in their surrounding and saying several times how grateful they were to be playing in this ‘beautiful theater’.
There was something very natural and calming about their performance, with the gentle guitar strumming, the contained and sparse drumming. However, the music could engage the audience in a lot of clapping as their sound was growing louder and more upbeat on some songs, with Kati Claborn plucking along on her banjo, whereas the band’s multi-voice harmonies and especially these trumpet solos, some instantaneous crowd-pleasers injected here and there in the middle of the songs, were bringing more melancholia to other tunes.
‘I Know’ made the crowd clap and move a little more thanks to its upbeat melody and wobbling organ, and especially bassist Luke Ydstie doing the strangest I-scream-like-I-was-shot-in-the-chest backup vocals.
The show was also installing something charming, organic and almost innocent, as if Blind Pilot wanted to go back to a real simplicity and naivety with real instruments, although there was nothing simple about being able to play all these instruments, sometimes at the same time. And talking about going back to the basics, this is also a band which toured from Vancouver to San Francisco by bike a few years ago!
Just before performing their jumpy-playful ‘We Are The Tide’ during which they brought more drums and foot tapping into play, Israel Nebeker, left alone on stage, sang an acoustic and stripped down cover of the Kinks’ ‘Strangers’. At this moment, I suddenly switched role with the teen crowd around me, as I was the only one singing along.
They came back for an encore with a dynamic rendition of the folky-banjo-driven ‘One Red Thread’, and looking at two teen girls holding each other during the song, I thought this definitively was music for romantic young girls with big eyes and long dresses, a sort of ‘folk music for cuties’, that wraps you like a giant hug. And since everyone was so quiet, the six of them decided to unplug all their instruments, come to the edge of the stage and play a totally unplugged version of ‘Three Rounds And A Sound’. It is obvious it was a precious moment for all the fans, with everyone in the crowd seemingly walking on clouds while participating to this eerie chorus.
2 The Story I Heard
4 Two Towns From Me
5 The Colored Night
6 I Know
7 Go On, Say It
8 White Apple
9 Keep you right
10 I Buried a Bone
11 Get it Out
12 Just One
13 New York
14 Half Moon
15 Strangers (The Kinks cover)
16 We Are The Tide
17 One Red Thread