The Lone Bellow in Portsmouth
The Lone Bellow
The Music Hall
I never got to see the Everly Brothers or Gram Parsons or The Band perform live, but I have seen The Lone Bellow. While the Brooklyn-based trio would be the first to admit theyâ€™re not at the same level as those classic artists from rockâ€™s past, theyâ€™ve been making a name for themselves over the last year mining the same lode of musical riches found where country, folk, rock and gospel meet. At the 900-seat Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH, The Lone Bellow put on an energetic, infectious live show â€“ equal parts hoedown, folk recital and tent-show revival.
The band has been touring essentially non-stop since the release of their eponymous debut in January 2013. â€śWeâ€™ve been on a long, incredible road trip across America,â€ť lead singer and songwriter Zach Williams said. The dozen songs on the album have been polished to a deep, umber glow over that time, but have lost none of their immediacy.
The band eases into their show with â€śI Let You Go,â€ť a relatively soft-spoken number that showcases the delicate vocal interplay between Williams and bandmates Brian Elmquist and Kanene Pipkin. It doesnâ€™t take long, though, for them to gallop into the kind midtempo and upbeat numbers that are their bread and butter: â€śYou Can Be All Kinds of Emotional,â€ť â€śYou Donâ€™t Love Me Like You Used Toâ€ť and â€śGreen Eyes and a Heart of Gold.â€ť
On stage, the three core members of the band are backed by Jason Pipkin (Kaneneâ€™s husband) on bass and Brian Griffin on drums. The groupâ€™s back story has been widely reported: how Williams began writing songs several years ago as a form of emotional therapy after his wife was gravely injured in a horseback-riding accident, then reunited with his old friend Elmquist in 2010 at a Brooklyn diner and recruited Pipkin, a friend-of-a-friend, to join them. As Williams has said, â€śThree songs in I realized I should quit what Iâ€™m doing and just make music with these people.â€ť
The 31-year-old Williams comes across as the living breathing heart of the band, at once charismatic and utterly down-to-earth. He roams the stage, steps down onto the floor of the auditorium and exhorts the crowd with the wide-eyed intensity of an evangelical preacher. Itâ€™s not unusual for him to end a show drenched in sweat, his hair akimbo. This being New Hampshire in mid-winter, he was spared the sweat-soaked outfit, although his hair could have used a combing by the time the encores were through.
Williams said the band has begun working on a second album, and they sprinkled a few new songs into the mix, including â€śGeorgia Will,â€ť a rollicking rave-up, and â€śHickory to Telluride,â€ť an ode to the long-running Colorado music festival.
At one point in the show, Williams, Elmquist and Pipkin stepped from the microphones and delivered acapella versions of â€śWatch Over Usâ€ť and â€śTwo Sides of Lonely,â€ť taking advantage of the gorgeous, opera house-like acoustics of the 135-year-old Music Hall. They also featured a pair of well-chosen covers â€“ John Prineâ€™s classic â€śAngel From Montgomeryâ€ť and Paul Simonâ€™s â€śSlip Slidinâ€™ Awayâ€ť â€“ before closing out the night with the gospel-inspired â€śTeach Me to Know.â€ť
The Lone Bellow heads overseas for a month of shows in the U.K., Spain and Germany before returning in the spring to hit the U.S. festival circuit.