Blind Pilot played to an enthusiastic crowd at their show at Rams Head Live in Baltimore on Feb. 4. The Portland-based group’s music does not fall squarely in the category of folk or indie-pop, instead it effortlessly melds the two to create a distinctive sound. The band, helmed by lead singer and guitarist Israel Nebeker and drummer Ryan Dobrowski, played songs from their previous albums 3 Rounds and a Sound (2009) and We Are the Tide (2011) as well as their newest album And Then Like Lions (2016).
Only in concert is the listener fully able to take in the subtle complexity, in instrumentals and lyrics, of each of Blind Pilot’s songs. About halfway into the second song of their set, “Half Moon,” the sound of a trumpet burst forth from Dave Jorgenson, nearly hidden at the back of the stage. Subdued complementary elements like this are easily lost when listening to the Blind Pilots digitally. It’s only in the context of a live concert that they really come through, for instance in “Joik #3” when band members Luke Ydstie and Kati Claborn offered delicate background vocals to accompany Nebeker’s voice. “Joik #3” demonstrates the complexity of Blind Pilot’s lyrics. Nebeker’s poetic lyrics are the focus due to this song’s slow meter. Nebeker doesn’t resort to a clique description of love instead singing, “I have loved you in the body, in the breath, in the eyes / In the air still speaking your sound.”
Blind Pilot’s versatility is its strength. Even before the music begins, the myriad of instruments on stage is astounding, an effect which only grows as band members cycle through their instruments. Their abilities range from acoustic guitar and upright bass to a harmonium and a dulcimer, which added a sound crossing between a banjo and an acoustic guitar on their quiet rendition of “Just One.”
From the moment the concert began Israel Nebeker’s grounding influence on Blind Pilot was evident. An intense energy was palpable in the venue from the moment the band walked onstage and he began to strum the opening chords of “Like Lions” and softly sing, “There are those among us willing / To get by on anything / Hollow hope of what is coming / A lifetime dangled by a string.” Nebeker’s voice was captivating, drawing each member of the audience in. As he got ready to play “New York” he reminisced about writing the song, including the story of how he broke into a golf course and hopped on a train passing through the course (as is common in Washington state). It was on this train ride that he found the inspiration to finish the song. This context made listening to him sing “These city veins answer all we do / So could you keep me in the pulses / Could you keep me in the sound,” even more significant.
The most noteworthy moment was when Nebeker broke from his set and played “The Bitter End,” which an audience member had been loudly requesting throughout the show. Nebecker’s receptiveness showed how in sync he was with those listening to him, doing his best to establish a relationship between himself and the crowd. The rapport was especially apparent when spur of the moment he decided to instead play the song without a microphone or a speaker for his guitar and asked the large hall to quiet down for a moment.
Towards the end of their set, they played “We Are The Tide” which gave the entire crowd the irresistible urge to throw their heads back and forth to the beat. This energy alternated with the desire to sing along with Nebeker, especially as he crooned “3 Rounds and a Sound” and paused for a moment so that he and the audience and could sing as one. The whole experience was utterly cathartic. Blind Pilot has a special way of connecting with their audience, making them continually want more.
Moon At Dawn
Two Towns From Me
The Story I Heard
Go On, Say It
Seeing is Believing
3 Rounds and a Sound
We Are the Tide
The Man in Me
One Red Thread
The Bitter End*
*Played by Nebeker after persistent requests from an audience member.