On Tuesday night, I was treated to what I can only describe as the musical equivalent of a plate of down home soul food, as Astoria, Oregon’s Blind Pilot played a near-capacity set at New York’s famed Webster Hall. I’ve had Blind Pilot on my radar since the release of 2009′s 3 Rounds and a Sound, but it was last year’s We Are the Tide that really goosed my affection for the group, leading to a spot on my Best of 2011 with ‘Keep You Right’. We Are the Tide‘s sound just had the extra layer of texture and depth and naturally, I wondered if they could pull it off live.
Having donated my extra ticket to a fan in need whilst in line prior to entry, the karmic/cosmic forces rewarded me with a ‘Keep You Right’ opener. Interestingly enough, it ended up being one of the less exciting points of the night. Allow me to qualify that statement however – that is not to say ‘Keep You Right’ wasn’t good. It was great. But it’s also a pretty straightforward track on the whole. What it did make abundantly clear to me, though, was that Israel Nebeker’s voice is ridiculously smooth in the live forum; perhaps more so than on their records. Impossible, you may say. But I assure you of this. I might even go so far as to say that he possesses one of the finest voices of the current era. Oh wait, I just did.
The way Blind Pilot performs is enthralling. The whole vibe of the show was as if they were just playing for some friends. There was an air of camaraderie between the band and the crowd, one being no less important to the moment than the other. I guess you could say it was almost a campfire kind of feel to the night. And the band seems to interact with one another this way as well. While Nebeker is clearly the central point of the band, everyone on stage got their moment in the spotlight at a point in the night. Of all of the supporting members, however, to me it was bassist/vocalist Luke Ydstie who deserves a big mention. This dude plays the upright bass like a son of a bitch, rocking to and fro and hammering the strings. On a few tracks he played with a bow, such as ‘Half Moon’, which happened to be one of the choice tracks of the night. On top of wreaking havoc on the upright, he killed it on electric bass on a few tracks, in addition to lending backing vocals on most songs. This cat has serious talent. Behind Ydstie, organist/trumpeter Dave Jorgensen and multi-instrumentalist Kati Claborn were definitely note-worthy. And while I’m at it, Ian Krist absolutely killed it on vibraphones and percussion. Which now leaves only drummer Ryan Dubrowski without mention, which I can’t allow as any music aficionado knows that the drummer makes everything go. They’re the engine, the heartbeat.
The set list was almost split even between We Are the Tide and 3 Rounds and a Sound, which was magnificent as it was one of the pleasures of the night to hear how far the tracks from 3 Rounds had evolved since their initial public offering in 2009. They’ve become much more full and every bit as textured as the tracks from We Are the Tide. The highlights of the night were ‘Go On, Say It’, ‘The Story I Heard’, ‘I Know’ with it’s sick organ intro from Jorgensen and ‘Wild Nights’-like groove, ‘Always’ with a filthy percussion intro, ‘Half Moon’, an extremely lively ‘We Are the Tide’ that saw Claborn hopping up and down whilst beating on Dubrowski’s crash cymbal with mallets, and any die hard Stones fan like myself would agree that the second encore of ‘Moonlight Mile’ was sick and severely unexpected. In fact, I’d call it the gravy on this plate of soul food.