Donnelly: Blind Pilot at the Bottleneck, July 14, 2011

I don’t think Blind Pilot lead singer Israel Nebeker ever stopped smiling throughout the whole show at the Bottleneck Wednesday night.

Hell, he’s probably still smiling, even though I hear, via Tweet, that the band is having some trouble out in western Kansas, probably due in part to their 1977 Crown school bus that is their home on the road.

According to the band, the old bus is "a very bad decision according to most tour managers we have met. But a great adventure according to us."

But sometimes, when something feels good you just go with it.

Everyone seemed to be feeling good at the ‘Neck, including the multitude of younger folks walking around sans beverages with black X’s on their hands.  The bar was pretty full, especially for a weeknight, probably about 2/3 of capacity – not too shabby. 

As Portland’s Blind Pilot strummed their way through accessible folk-pop songs the audience reflected the bands’ smiles with their own.  I thought to myself these guys sound like they should open for Jack Johnson.   

The first thing that really jumped out at me was the three part harmonies on nearly every song.  Nice.  That and the very quiet yet tasteful song arrangements.   

For example, there was a squeeze box type thing on several songs that was just barely audible as an echo, making the listener strain a bit to really hear what was going on, forcing a kind of attention that more "out front" sounding acts can never seem to command. 

Same type thing in another song when one of the band members picked up a trumpet just to add that particular tone to the chords.  And same with the keyboard that just emanated a ghostly, soft sound that was almost easier to feel than hear.

Big props to the soundgirl, who did a great job all evening, except for the last song (I’ll get to that in a minute).

All the musical subtleties were really effective, especially when matched with the band’s endless smiles and good natured stage banter.  Sometimes it makes a big difference, as an audience member, if you feel like the band is truly appreciative of where they are, what they’re doing, and not jaded by the road and endless bad food.

I was a little surprised, though, that most of the songs they played were off of 2008’s "3 Rounds and a Sound."  I mean, it’s a great album, don’t get me wrong, but the band is supposed to be releasing a new album in September so I was expecting to get more of a taste of the new stuff.

And that’s really my only little gripe about this show, if you can even call it a gripe.  Actually, that’s not really a gripe. 

In fact, the show was great.  Perfect energy and simple songs executed nicely.

As their set drew to a close, Nebeker announced to the crowd that, "We got one more for you!"  But the Bottleneck crowd didn’t want it to end.  Boos rained down

Startled, Nebeker confided, "We actually are going to play more, we just say that you know?  When I say ‘we got one more’, I mean it like when a band says ‘we got one more.’" 

This drew some chuckles and cheers.

After the song, the band ran upstairs into the shitty green room and then emerged a minute later.  But instead of plugging back in they stepped off the front of the stage into the audience and played unplugged quietly.  Some in the room weren’t paying attention and had to be told to shut it so everyone could hear.

When they finished, the crowd showered the band with an ovation the likes of which I haven’t heard at the Bottleneck in a long time. 

I’ll admit though, I thought the encore was a little gimmicky.  But as good natured as the band was all night I was willing to play along.  I guess I just selfishly wish I could have heard the unplugged stuff sound as good and balanced as the preceding set.

But I get it.  And I like it.
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