Just south of Santa Fe New Mexico, there is a road. The road is dusty and winding, but it twists through the deep green, high desert forests of the Pecos. At the end of the road there is a place; a place where the beer is strong and the music is as sweet as the sunset. The place is the Santa Fe Sol and on Wednesday, July 11th it reached the height of its beauty when Portland based, indie darlings Blind Pilot took the stage for a small but engaged and intimate crowd.
The show was perfectly timed. Just as the air began to cool and the crowd was sinking into their second brew (Santa Fe Sol is also the home of Santa Fe Brewing) Israel Nebeker and Blind Pilot jovially took the stage. There were smiles and waves and then they got down to it.
They opened appropriately with “Half Moon”, one of the most captivating pieces in their repertoire. As the sun set behind them, casting orange and yellow across the southwestern sky, Nebeker matched the beauty with his vocals and lyrics, “It’s not hard to live like a ghost. I just haunt all that I wanted and leave what I don’t.” The mood was set.
Little did I know that despite their often somber tones and deep lyrics, Blind Pilot is a band that truly has fun doing what they do. Tear jerking tunes were followed by playful banter. “Jimmy Cliff is coming?!” Bassist, Luke Ydstie inquired in shock after Nebeker read off the coming concert schedule for the Sol. “Will we still be here?” He pleaded. The crowd couldn’t get enough.
As the show continued, Blind Pilot never let off of the gas. With two full length albums (3 Rounds and a Sound and We Are the Tide) plus an EP (featuring the ever popular redux of Gillian Welch’s amazing “Look at Miss Ohio”) it is hard to say that they have ever written a bad tune, but as with all bands, there are highs and lows. At this show, they never dipped. The crowd sang to every song and the band responded with equal love. The played passionately and flawlessly.
The sun finally cast its last wisps of purple over the desert horizon and the band moved on to more adventurous music. Israel Nebeker brought out the second strangest instrument I have ever seen (the strangest being Flecktones member, Futureman’s Syntax Drum Guitar…also witnessed in Santa Fe) what I can only assume is the Pump Organ credited on We Are the Tide. If accordions had slide guitar equivalents, this would be it. The long and often sad sounds that came from the device matched Nebeker’s vocals perfectly; like bagpipes… if someone could actually sing to those overpowering instruments.
Luke stood wrapped around his upright bass, except when he was prompting the crowd to sing along. I’m not sure he ever stopped smiling. His joy was infectious and he deserves a special note for kicking ass in the “stage presence” arena.
Kati Claborn didn’t slack either. She is the odd instrument specialist. Her ukulele was a major highlight, but she made the stage her home, moving from station to station, playing drums, strumming guitar and singing into Nebeker's mic. She was stunning.
They moved fluidly through their set, finishing with the sweeter than sweet “White Apple” (featuring a classic “Led Zeppelin break” making it perfect for a finale) before exiting the stage for the customary “we’re-done-but-you-know-we’re-not” encore break. The crowd cheered and clapped in the most energetic display all evening. Like children emerging from the trance of a magic show, they clamored for more. Blind Pilot made them wait…all of 30 seconds before coming back out and right back to their instruments.
The sweet, fluid vocals and the folk melodies blended with the setting. I couldn’t help but feel like Blind Pilot was meant to play the Sol. The high tones and soft lyrics created a very tangible feel and the crowd grooved along nicely. “Make music from the chatter in here. Whisper all the notes in my ear.” Nebeker crooned as the crowd stood in awe of their first encore song, “Oviedo”. The title track “3 Rounds and a Sound” finally made an appearance. Nebeker fulfilled some lost promise to his crowd, almost whispering, “They’re playing our song. They’re playing our song. Can you see the light? Can you hear the hum… of our song? I hope they get it right. I hope we dance tonight, before we get it wrong.” A humble and sincere, “Thank you” and they were gone again.
The night was in full bloom as we slowly, lazily shuffled out. The moon was burning and the clouds began to cover the warm evening. The crowd left high, Nebeker’s voice still ringing in our ears. I hope Blind Pilot returns. I hope they still love their music. I hope they never leave. I hope they play our song. I hope… because the setting sol has never been so beautiful.
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