Review – Blind Pilot at the Wild Buffalo
I come at these things backwards sometimes: I have a friend who wanted to see Blind Pilot, and my memory had no recollection of them. Some quick digging and it turned out that local favourite Dan Mangan had opened for them and I had some tracks kicking around from when they played SxSW in 2009. The studio material sounds a bit poppier than my taste trends, but I liked. Plus: these guys toured on bicycles, and as a cyclist that puts them in a special place in my heart.
So it is that I packed into my trusty Toyota and headed for one of my favourite venues–Bellingham’s Wild Buffalo House of Music–for a show a couple of days ahead of their Vancouver gig. Call me a hipster if you want, but I like the vibe at the Buffalo better than Vancouver’s Venue: the latter is a converted nightclub, the former full of character. It’s a feel thing, and I can’t explain it rationally.
Four piece opening act Point Juncture, WA warmed up the noticeably young and building crowd nicely with their own style of pop-rock while the band waited outside in the Oregon plated vintage blue school bus they’re touring in this time (a rising profile leads to more gigs and more gear, so the bicycles have fallen by the wayside for now.) The openers played on a very packed stage, with their own gear piled in amongst the headliners.
During intermission the crowd packed tightly to the stage and–I can’t make this stuff up–started a fierce debate about the proper pronunciation of Bon Iver. “It’s french” someone insisted (not really, but it’s derived from it so whatever.) This went on for about five minutes. The band couldn’t hit the stage soon enough for my taste.
Suddenly more gear appears to join the vibraphone and what looks like a standup accordion. Now there’s not one but two banjos, a ukelele, a pair of pickup equipped asian looking stringed instruments I didn’t recognize (they weren’t sitars) and an upright base making their way to the stage. This is a band with a lot of instruments, and trust me: they used them all before the night was over.
The band took the stage (with a trumpet in hand, lest they leave anything out I guess) with Ryan Dobrowski and Bellingham local Kati Claborn on guitar and banjo respectively. The set opened loudly and full, with the band’s harmonies filling the room nicely. Moving smoothly from upbeat numbers to quieter melodic tunes like White Apple with its opening refrain of “in shadow / in dark / in cold wind / open up your heart”gently accompanied by that trumpet.
This is a strong live sound, and those banjos lent plenty of twang for my ears–certainly more than the production on on We Are the Tide led me to expect. Not every band comes across live as well as they do on a well produced record but this one does. They sound natural and at ease as a group, and it was abundantly clear that both the band and the audience were having fun.
With the popular and uptempo Half Moonalmost certainly marking the end of the set that wind was calling my name and I packed into the car for the drive home having had a full and good time with a great band. It’s always nice to see a band on the rise playing to a full, packed room of their hardcore fans. Who knows, that debate over the newly Grammy nominated Bon Iver’s name may be prescient for a future nod for these guys, though these fans won’t care: they’ll just keep coming back for a good time.
Heading north across the border just after one in the morning when I told the border guard where I’d been he asked “How’d you hear about the band?” I told him they were a pretty big band out of Portland. Who knows: maybe the border guard will make the next show.
That vintage blue school bus they’re touring in, by the way? Well played, Blind Pilot. Well played. It’s definitely cooler than a rented Greyhound.
Blind Pilot’s current tour ends in Vancouver on Saturday, December 3rd at Venue but new spring dates have been announced on the web site.