Blind Pilot puts on sincere show

Blind Pilot lead singer Israel Nebecker closed the night with an unplugged rendition of “Three Rounds and a Sound.” (credit: Courtesy of Jess Phoa) Blind Pilot lead singer Israel Nebecker closed the night with an unplugged rendition of “Three Rounds and a Sound.” (credit: Courtesy of Jess Phoa)

Despite the fact that Blind Pilot has played in Pittsburgh multiple times in the past, last Friday marked the band’s first time playing at Mr. Small’s Theater in Millvale. An old church converted into a concert venue, it was the perfect space for the almost religious experience of a Blind Pilot concert.

The night’s musical experience began with The Barr Brothers, an indie folk band from Montreal. While serenading the audience with a folksy repertoire featuring instruments not usually found in contemporary pop music — a harp, a pump organ, and a strand of polyester thread tied to a guitar string — they were very insular performers.

While it was clear that the band played passionately, they interacted little with the audience. The Barr Brothers’ style meshed well with the folk-inspired guitar pop that has gained Blind Pilot a fervent following and critical acclaim from NPR, but the audience did not seem that interested. Throughout the entire set people were chatting and drinking, eagerly awaiting Blind Pilot to take the stage.

There is only one term that could be used to accurately describe the group of people that had congregated in Mr. Small’s on Friday: sincere. This was clear from the moment Blind Pilot began playing the first song of their set. While the audience did not suddenly go quiet, the conversations took a dramatic turn from idle talk to veneration of the band. Throughout the show, people were voicing their amazement at the band’s musical talent and how much they were enjoying the emotionally charged set.

Like the openers, Blind Pilot did not interact much with the audience. After every couple of songs, lead singer and guitarist Israel Nebecker would talk to the audience, but it felt unnatural at times, as if he’d much rather share his music than his words. It was clear that this performance was not meant for fair-weather fans or for people who had never listened to the band before. For the band and the devoted fans in attendance, however, it was a magical experience.

The band closed their set with a heartfelt performance of “We Are the Tide.” As the group left the stage, the lights went out and the audience began the ritual of demanding an encore. Within minutes, the band returned to the stage to perform a three-song encore that was arguably the highlight of the show.

The first song, “Bitter End,” began as a solo performance by Nebecker. Midway through the song, the rest of the band came on stage and joined in the performance. This was followed up by a joint effort with The Barr Brothers to cover American folk singer-songwriter John Prine’s “Clay Pigeons.” The performance was quiet, subtly powerful, and emphasized the folk roots that Blind Pilot had begun their career playing.

To end the night, Blind Pilot went completely unplugged except for a microphone. It took several minutes to quiet down the audience; however, the effort was rewarded with a beautiful rendition of “Three Rounds and a Sound.” While the effort could have been written off as cheesy, the sheer sincerity of the band’s performance and the audience’s enraptured silence was moving in a way that is not often seen in contemporary concerts.

Being in the audience and listening to that raw and completely honest performance was a moment of spiritual awakening. Even for those who weren’t fans of Blind Pilot’s music, it was difficult to walk away from Mr. Small’s and not feel satisfied with at least that final performance.