The Kessler Theater in Dallas is groovy, plain-and-simple. Unlike other venues in the area (i.e. the Granada Theater, the Palladium Ballroom, House of Blues, Prophet Bar, Club Dada, etc.) the Kessler has an intimate feel without the grungy bar atmosphere. While I certainly can’t knock the big venues or smaller bars in Big D, as I’ve seen many of my favorite local bands in them, the Kessler was a welcome change. Sitting in Dallas’ historical Oak Cliff, the Kessler feels more like an old movie theater than anything, with a narrow row of balcony seats that wrap around the sides and back of the space. I spotted the members of Blind Pilot leaning against the wall of the balcony catching the last couple of songs of their opening band Lost Lander.
The Portland-based band opened the set playing “Keep You Right,” from their second album We Are the Tide with an authentic Blind Pilot tenderness that is compelling both melodically and lyrically, with lines like, “I press my ear against the ground to know/the song it sings.” Vocally led by multi-instrumentalist Israel Nebeker, Blind Pilot gave an energy-packed show to a room full what seemed like loyal fans as we enthusiastically danced and sang along to every song, myself included. The band played We Are the Tide almost in its entirety, and a handful of songs from their first album Three Rounds and a Sound, including the somewhat subdued “Oviedo” punctuated by a brilliant brass solo mid-song, and the upbeat “One Read Thread” by audience insistence. Layering intricate banjo fingerpicking, solid upright bass, trumpet, ukulele, and even the harmonium (I had to look that one up, guys), with perfectly harmonizing vocals, there’s no doubt that Blind Pilot is made up of six incredibly talented musicians, and the Kessler theater was a perfect venue for showcasing their infectious sound.
I’ve written many posts regarding my favorite things about live music: that perfect audience energy, the feeling when an entire crowd jumps in unison, and that moment when harmonies and melodies click, when voices and instruments have a beautifully gritty edge of dissonance, and then lock in and the room becomes a different place. I love it all, but what I love most is the way soles and heels and toes and fingertips become an integral part of the moment, the way they keep the beat and sometimes dance along. Blind Pilot amplified all of those elements, and the audience responded with equal amounts of energy and affection in gratitude for the beautiful balance of sweetly soft and intimate numbers like Kati Claborn’s Utah Phillips cover on dulcimer with Luke Ydstie on the upright bass, and contagiously upbeat percussion that drives the title track “We Are the Tide.”
My favorite moment of the night was one I happily didn’t catch on camera; no one was to per the band’s request. It was an exercise in being fully present without the burden of technology, one I was happy to participate in. For their last song, the band stepped into the audience, instruments in tow, including Luke Ydstie’s massive upright bass, and played “Three Rounds and a Sound” acoustically amidst a crowd voices singing along. There are few moments in my life I can recall that were as spectacular as that one was.