Torrey and I had the amazing opportunity to meet, interview, and experience The Lone Bellow (Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, Kanene Pipkin, Jason Pipkin, and Brian Griffin) and Greg Holden at Sixth and I Synagogue.
And I can say without a doubt that it was the best show I’ve ever witnessed.
The band members in The Lone Bellow are not only incredibly talented musicians, but are also extremely kind, humble, and appreciative of their fans. Shows are always made better when an artist and their audience connect on a truly personal level, an occurrence which I have only experienced a handful of times: Noah and the Whale’s performance at the 9:30 Club last month, and all three performances I’ve seen by The Lone Bellow. The band will be kicking off their first full UK tour soon in conjunction with the much anticipated release of their first album across the pond, nearly a year after its release here in the states.
Greg Holden kicked off the evening with the rousing “Shit You Say”, apologizing afterward for cursing in a Synagogue amid laughter and applause. As a Scot who has since made his home in Brooklyn, Holden not only has remarkable hair, but also performs brilliantly. Throughout the evening, he had the packed house engaged and enjoying themselves, with Brian Griffin on drums and Jay Foote on bass and backup vocals, who Holden claims has been “babysitting” him on the tour. Through each quick folk tune, he had us all smiling and was particularly glad for our positive heckling becuase he’s used to rowdy English crowds telling him to “get off the bloody stage”.
When The Lone Bellow took the stage, the atmosphere was electric. When they began to sing, their passion for tone and verse immediately silenced the room. They began with “You Can be All Kinds of Emotional,” saving crowd favorite “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” for later in the evening.
Perhaps what truly made this experience better than any other was what Zach, Brian, and Kanene did next. Unplugging their instruments, they walked down from the stage, stopping nary a foot in front of us in the middle front row and capturing the attention of the audience to the point of pin-dropping hush and tranquility. That was when this temple of Judea instead became a shrine dedicated to the most raw and passionate music my ears have ever encountered. Without a single amp or microphone, they played and crooned seemingly more loudly than they had on-stage, performing “Watch Over Us”, a deeply spiritual a cappella hymn lead by Brian (Elmquist) that captures the powerful vicissitudes of love and life which begins and ends with a slow and gentle choral rumble akin to a ceaselessly rolling train. The performance left the room speechless and my mouth was nearly agape in awe. “Two Sides of Lonely,” with its haunting allusions to death and lost love was next before they returned to the stage for “Tree to Grow,” a beautiful song about reverence, love, and promise which as I’ve said before, holds a special reservation during my wedding day, years down the road.
Coming back for their encore after only a few minutes, they happily exclaimed that they’d be waiting around after the show to meet and talk with all of us. Zach then went on to say “I wrote this song while feeling inadequate!”, launching into “The One You Should’ve Let Go” and bringing everyone back onto their feet to sing, dance and clap along.
Before starting their next song, Zach tells us that the night before, on the “first song, a song, a verse, Brian lost his brain, fell off the edge of the stage and some poor woman like, football brace caught his 200 pounds of quality, and he’s alright, thank the lord he’s alright.” The crowd erupted with laughter and appreciation, jokingly enquiring as to the health of the woman who caught him before quieting down for The Lone Bellow’s moving rendition of Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away”.
To finish off the evening, they brought Greg and Jay back out with Zach talking us through his tuning his guitar. “We have to be okay with awkward silence, or we’ll just never get stronger!” he says, before talking about that feeling you get from watching “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days” to getting dumped, an experience which creates the same quiet and awkward feeling as tuning one’s guitar in front of one thousand people. The chords to “Teach Me to Know” start ringing from his guitar as he exclaims “I don’t know how to dig myself out of this hole of banter, but thank you for being here tonight!” before diving into the feel-good crowd-pleaser.
By the end of the song, not a soul was silent as we all cathartically shouted, clapped, and danced, getting “Carried away, carried away!” by the fun and enjoyment expressed by everyone in attendance. Before wrapping up, they left the stage once more, bringing out the whole band to perform in the middle of the room, standing on the pews and getting us all to sing along, a cappella, as one clear voice of elation and enjoyment.
Our interview with Kanene Pipkin of The Lone Bellow can be heard here.