Blind Pilot | Cataldo Plush March 2, 2012
The crowd had gathered in Midtown to see Blind Pilot, the charming, affable and endlessly melodic folk band from Portland, Oregon whose star has been steadily rising since 2009. But the concert was as much a rock show as it was a proving ground for Plush, the two-month old venue that was hosting its first major weekend of concerts. Based on overheard chatter, most of the full (but not sold-out) crowd was getting its first taste of the venue and restaurant; people seemed to cotton to the club and its kitchen-sink approach to décor. Aside from a corral-like effect of patrons waiting to get in the venue/restaurant's only entrance, things went smoothly, and Plush had a successful debut for the first-timers. (Confidential to people who bitch about waiting to get a beer at a crowded bar: Patience is a virtue.)
Cataldo, a four-piece from Seattle, began the evening promptly at 9 p.m. with a set of smart, harmony-laden rock & roll. Singer and guitarist Eric Anderson loomed over the mic, looking like a rumpled grad student in a sports coat and Oxford shirt, and his bushy beard was no impediment to the honeyed vocals that buoyed his band's songs. Placed alongside the lead guitar's wisely deployed effects -- octave drops that sounded like a Byrds-y twelve-string, staccato loops that laid down a stuttering pulse -- Anderson's songs landed like more forceful versions of headliner Blind Pilot's catalog or streamlined, less mewling Death Cab for Cutie tunes. Must be a Pacific Northwest thing.
Blind Pilot quietly took the stage a little after 10 p.m. and, without much fanfare, kicked into "Keep You Right" from last year's Tucker Martine-produced We are the Tide. Lead singer and guitarist Israel Nebeker has an easy, if reserved, way on the microphone. He's not one for on-stage banter or song introductions, which keeps the focus on his high, clear tenor voice and evocative and oblique lyrics. The crowd, sufficiently warmed up by the opener and adequately juiced from the impressively stocked bar, lapped up Blind Pilot's approach. These are gentle songs at their core, and both Nebeker voice and his band's dynamic ability can push these songs to the rafters. It's a technique that the sextet returned to again and again, and no one tired of it.
Nebeker could probably have made his name as a guy-with-guitar folkie -- the band began as a two-man band, in fact -- but he's smart enough to surround his songs with sympathetic instrumentation that lends different colors and moods. With Nebeker's acoustic guitar and Kati Clabor's turns on banjo, dulcimer and ukulele, rootsy folk makes up the core. On a song like "One Red Thread," performed near the end of the set, those banjo plucks rose above the din. But the wild-card instruments give a jazzy, chamber-pop vibe to many of these tunes. Ian Krist's vibraphone hovered in the ether much of the night, and Dave Jorgensen provided drones with his harmonium and bright trills with his trumpet.
And with that arsenal of instruments and locked-in performers, Blind Pilot laid a steady, loping groove that rarely raised anyone's heart rate but allowed these songs to pierce the skin. The set's mid-section was stacked with the band's top-tier songs: early hit "The Story I Heard" began with a simple, slow shuffle and gradually built into a sing-along. "White Apple," the new LP's standout track, did something similar, using negative space to make the minor-key melody hauntingly sink in. But it was the up-tempo "Half Moon," with its 16th-note high-hats hits and punchy kick drum, that brought the crowd closest to a dance party. The song is a curveball in the band's twenty-ish song catalog, but it's nod towards blended genres and the anthemic quality buried in many of Nebeker's songs.
The proper set closed with a spirited take of "We are the Tide," and the band quickly returned to the stage for one more song. This time, though, the normally reticent Nebeker took to the mic to explain how it was going to go down: "You've been having some interesting conversations all night, and I hope to hear about them after the show. But this song only works if everyone is quiet." It may have been the nicest, most passive-aggressive "shut the fuck up" on record, but it was a necessary admonishment for the all-acoustic, no-microphone encore of "3 Rounds and a Sound" that found the band circled on the dance floor in front of the stage.
But because we're in St. Louis, or because Plush is a crowded, two-level bar made of sound-carrying concrete, or because Blind Pilot is not quite at the stage where they can successfully tell people to shut the fuck up, it took some time to quiet down the crowd. More accurately, it took a fed-up woman on the second floor to holler, "Shut the fuck up, frat boys!" at the offending bros. Which, you know, sort of killed the campfire mood of the whole thing. (No word on who said frat boys were pledging this semester.) Thankfully, Nebeker's plan did, eventually, bear fruit, and the bulk of the crowd joined in a sing-along for the song's remainder.
It was a final warm fuzzy from a band full of them, but the sentiment in Nebeker's songs isn't cheap or cloying, nor are the songs' arrangements trite or manipulative. Accordingly, the bulk of the crowd responded to the evening's show with heartfelt applause and a palpable sense of communion with what Blind Pilot was putting out. And that's always nice to experience.
"There's a lot of plaid happening here tonight." Two different women expressed this sentiment.
"I'm surrounded by assholes." In response to the acoustic encore and the battle between chatty bar-goers and fervent fans.
Like many here in town, I first became aware of Blind Pilot during its opening set for the Decemberists in May of 2009. To date, I've never seen an opening act hold the attention of a packed venue. I saw many fans grab its debut 3 Rounds and a Sound in the intermission, another first. When I caught them a few months later at a sold-out Off Broadway show, that fanbase had grown into a hushed devotion for many in the crowd.
I'm on the fence about acceptable levels of chit-chat at a rock show. Awed reverence is paid where it is due, and not every band earns it. (Full disclosure: I got shushed during the opening band's first song, which struck me as a little much.)
About Plush: The venue did a fine job -- the sound was clear throughout the somewhat cavernous, concrete venue, which isn't easy given the multitude of instruments on stage. St. Louis has been lacking a room that can hold 500-700 for too long, and Plush fits that need and then some. Its management will need to figure out a clearer way to get patrons through the door, though.
Set List: 1. "Keep You Right" 2. "Two Towns from Me" 3. "Go On, Say It" 4. "I Buried a Bone" 5. "The Colored Night" 6. "I Know" 7. "Just One" 8. "The Story I Heard" 9. "White Apple" 10. "Half Moon" 11. "Oviedo" 12. "Always" 13. "Get it Out" 14. "New York" 15. "One Red Thread" 16. "We are the Tide"
Encore 17. "3 Rounds and a Sound"