The Pilot Ships, Ritz Lounge, Thursday 15

Live Shots

Live Shots
Photo By Gary Miller

The Pilot Ships

Ritz Lounge, Thursday 15

Nine o' clock can be a funny time during South by Southwest. Many a soul is just gearing up for the big Thursday crunch, while others are getting a second wind, riddled by sometimes incomprehensible logistics, and still woozy from oft on-the-fly travel arrangements. For those in the latter camp, Thursday's Pilot Ships show was the ultimate decompression -- a dip into a warm Jacuzzi, an exorcism of any remaining daytime demons. With the scant "VIP" seats at the low-capacity Ritz Lounge already taken, the quartet nonchalantly eased into their first performance in years, rent asunder as they were by half the members of the originally Austin-based troupe moving to Chicago. As the clock struck nine, the warm tones began radiating from the stage, and soon a skeletal bassline emerged, buoyed by the minimalist trap work of Chicago resident Cheree Jetton. As the placid mood sank deep into the bones of the quickly mellowing crowd, Jetton raised the intensity, bashing the skins with increasing force until the tumult found a nest riding piggyback atop the stallion of tranquility. The Ships' next trick had Michael Linnen, who also plays in Monroe Mustang, stepping up to the mike and working some minor-chord magic into the steady mix. The Pilot Ships are chiefly a studio project, as the four members record pieces in their living rooms and home studios, the final product taking shape often with the U.S. Postal Service serving as executive producer. There are many faces to the group's sound, and at the Ritz they played the revolving-door instrument game that has emerged as a trademark of Monroe Mustang. But where the mood shifts caused by the drastic personnel switches works to cinematic, almost narrative perfection on the band's gorgeous The Limits of Painting and Poetry, the same can't be said for the physical and aural shifts during the live set. The band patiently mined a certain shade of sound for a while, then personnel shifts brought a different sound, abandoning the previous key entirely. The Ships' versatility kept things interesting on a visual level, and they hit one of their finest moments with Jetton on guitar, using her dreamy vocal stylings and a tremolo twang to send any remaining iotas of crowd phobia or Sixth Street-induced tension up in a great Magellenic cloud. Unfortunately, Jetton's lungs, the group's secret weapon, remained largely untapped, and much of the set sank into a tepid pall that the thoroughly colorful album managed to avoid. Clearly the Ships would be helped by gigging more often than once every election year, but it was still nice to see this anonymous quartet display their rich, hypnotic wares.

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