Blind Pilot might be indie music’s most unassuming stars, a fact evidenced as much by the band’s humble onstage banter as it’s players’ ability to blend in with their fans. Needless to say, the plaid shirts and scruff-covered faces were out in full force last Friday night at SOhO, and together with the nighttime chill made the whole affair feel, well, downright Oregonian.
For their headlining stint, the Portland-based duo-cum-sextet (drummer Ryan Dobrowski and frontman Israel Nebeker founded the band in 2005) crafted a setlist that beautifully showcased their easy, melodic brand of folk pop. Despite the recent release of (and rave reviews for) the band’s sophomore album, We Are the Tide, the set was fairly evenly split between newer works and songs from 2008’s 3 Rounds and a Sound. With the addition of a trumpet player and backup songstress Kati Claborn, the band was able to imbue those older tracks with a sense of energy and tension that outshined their recorded counterparts. In particular, “Go On, Say It” moved from its sweet, waltzy album form to a jangling pop anthem ideal for audience sing-a-longs.
Like their records, Blind Pilot’s live show benefits from the big, multi-instrumental swells, and with a larger band behind them Nebeker and Dobrowski most definitely had room to stretch things out — and crank things up — a bit. What’s most respectable about these Portlanders is their sense of restraint, though; no song in Friday’s set was over embellished, and even the emphatic group harmonies and pointed guitar stops and starts never felt too forced. Still, it was Dobrowski’s spot-on, though slightly flavorless drum work that proved the biggest disappointment of the night. Left to jam or even rock out a bit, I’m convinced he could have had the cramped crowd grooving.