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Blind Pilot crashes into Studio B downtown

by Ryan Snyder

There are plenty of reasons to believe that Portland’s Blind Pilot (www.myspace.com/goblindpilot) is positioning itself to be the next big thing in indie rock. For starters, their hit “Go On, Say It” was handpicked as iTunes’ Single of the Week, the band itself was chosen by Starbucks as Pick of the Week only recently and they’re coming off of a gig on “Last Call with Carson Daly.”

They have also gotten the attention of numerous notable musicians, including singer and former Big Lebowski nihilist and toe donor Aimee Mann, who declared Blind Pilot her “new favorite band.” On top of such titular accolades, they’ve been described as a thoughtful and folksy mix of Indie darlings the Shins and Iron & Wine. Still need further proof that they might just be the hipster’s Flavor of the Week that OMG-I-can’tbelieve-you-haven’t-heard-of? The stripped-down duo who once toured on bicycles has transformed into a crush of up to nine touring musicians who, while not outwardly masterful at any of their instruments, utilize your typical oddball indie arrangement. Upright bass, vibraphone, ukulele, Applachian dulcimer, banjo and trumpet were among a musical armory during the band’s March 27 date at Studio B that might have even made Broken Social Scene blush. The healthy crowd of young urban twenty-somethings at the back-alley theater got to see promising Greensboro shoegazers Citified play a full set before Blind Pilot appeared. Despite singer and guitarist Chris Jackson’s vocals being consistently drowned out somewhat by the venue’s subpar sound quality, the band’s music was lively and the tracks from their new EP Absence were promising. Only six of the nine musicians on Blind Pilot’s active roster were in attendance at the Studio B set. That may have been serendipitous, as the sound issues from the opener unfortunately carried over into the headliner’s set. But despite vocalist Israel Nebeker requesting adjustments immediately following opener “Oviedo,” the lush instrumental arrangement on iTunes hit “Go On, Say It” was indicative of the majestic richness that qualifies their music. They’re never once ham-fisted and ever single note seems to have it place in their perfectly tidy sonic world. The music’s sleepy, unhurried pace worked well with the rustic backdrops of farmhouses, rolling fields and abundant forests that were projected over the band. The plethora of traditional stringed instruments that new addition Kati Claborn utilized seemed plucked right out of the illusions cast behind her. Her voice was quaintly familiar, even if she did seem to overextend on occasion, with the same bittersweet character of Gillian Welch complementing her crestfallen strumming. She was especially strong on the cover of the late, great folk singer Utah Phillips’ “Rock Salt and Nails,” a song the band has included as a regular part of their set in tribute to his death nearly a year ago. Blind Pilot took the mostly-engrossed audience through the entirety of their album 3 Rounds and a Sound, with a few other bonus cuts thrown in to round out the set. One of those was one of Nebeker’s newest creations “White Apple,” whose stark imagery was defined at first by the somber cadence of Dave Jorgenson’s trumpet and eventually punctuated by the startling drum dashing by Ryan Dombrowski. It seemed to shake the audience out of its lull, because Nebeker had to shut everyone up before they could even attempt the next song, the title track from their album. Though they complimented the Greensboro crowd as being one of the friendliest they’ve ever come across, they couldn’t finish the set without tossing a barb at the venue. “I heard this place used to be a swimming pool. Swimming Pool? Cesspool,” Nebeker joked. “It used to be a swimming pool, now it’s a cesspool.” They closed their set out with “We Are the Tide,” the theme song from their documentary of the same name, but would quickly return for a two-song encore of “The Bitter End” and “One Red Thread.” The latter, a definite crowd favorite, was reminiscent of Townes Van Zandt’s endearing way of making the old sound new. Blind Pilot will return to North Carolina on June 4 as they open for fellow Portland indie-rockers the Decemberists at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium.

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