Review: Blind Pilot with the Oregon Symphony

The much loved local indie-folk act charms a packed house with a vibrant symphonic collaboration at the Schnitz.

By Rachel Ritchie April 29, 2013

They had us at Grieg. Well, no—they had us long before then, pretty much when we first heard that Portland’s darlingest indie-folk band (I mean, even Ellen loves them!) would be collaborating with the very cultured Oregon Symphony at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. (Could there be an event designed to make one feel better about his or her use of time and appreciation for interesting music?) But it wasn’t just Blind Pilot—it happened that the suite from Peer Gynt that the symphony selected from Hungarian composer Edvard Grieg was also a perfectly blended appetizer of joyful, haunting, and compelling music.

The show began with a globetrotting selection of classical compositions: Malcom Arnold’s “Pesante,” Aaron Copland’s “Saturday Night Waltz,” Percy Grainger’s “Mock Morris,” Astor Piazzolla’s “La Muerte del Angel,” and Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” For the uninitiated symphony-goer (that’s me), Grieg was the highlight—but it was all thrilling.

After our appetites were sufficiently whetted, a three-piece-suited Israel Nebeker took the stage with his equally dapper-ified band: Luke Ydstie, Kati Claborn, Ryan Dobrowski, Ian Krist, and Dave Jorgensen. With guest conductor Troy Peters at his podium and the symphony behind them, Blind Pilot launched into a set of songs that proved Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale right: “Sometimes collaborations can seem a little desperate for symphonies,” he admitted in our May article about the collaboration. “But Blind Pilot is so melodic and lovely and symphonic that it seems really compatible.”

The set consisted of a mix of arrangements from the band’s 3 Rounds and a Sound (2008) and We Are the Tide (2011), some with full symphonic backing, some partial, and some stripped down to a voice and a guitar. It was a gorgeous and exhilarating sequence of music—joyful, heartfelt, sincere, and deliberate, just as we had all hoped—and the arrangements (thanks to the prolific Sean O’Loughlin) all worked flawlessly. Nothing was forced, nothing desperate. Just really nice songs, ones that we knew all the words to, sonically expanded and opened wide.

One couple nearby couldn’t help but get up and dance to what must have been their song, only to be scolded by security—about four times in a row. We were all silently cheering them on, smiling wide.

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