Under normal circumstances, an up-and-coming and super-energetic musical act like The Lone Bellow wouldn’t pass up a chance to play Music City. But for The Lone Bellow, it’s a no-brainer, as they have ties to Nashville, which makes a show there stand out for two reasons.
First, the producer of their self-titled debut record, Charlie Peacock, who also produced both of The Civil Wars’ records, recorded overdubs and fixes for their debut album at his studio, an old abandoned church in Nashville called The Art House.
Second, The Lone Bellow’s vocalist and guitarist Brian Elmquist used to live in Nashville, playing music constantly so he could “become a better songwriter.” I think he succeeded in that department. Case in point: his stellar contributions to The Lone Bellow’s songs.
The Lone Bellow took the stage at the Mercy Lounge following local Nashville artist Matthew Perryman Jones, who opened the show. Jones performed a song called “Looking For You” that he co-wrote with Zach Williams, lead singer and principal songwriter of The Lone Bellow. That song also made the cut as the ninth track on The Lone Bellow’s self-titled record.
Jones shared that he hoped The Lone Bellow wouldn’t play the very same song, but to no avail, as I would later discover. Jones’ music captured a folky Americana downhome Nashville acoustic sound that included lap steel, harmonica, acoustic guitar, a percussive box, a female back-up singer who sang lovely harmonies and a fiddle with an attitude.
The show was sold out, and the crowd packed in just in time for The Lone Bellow to walk out on stage to roaring applause. They have played some gigs as a trio, but this tour includes a full band. Williams and Elmquist play mostly acoustic guitar, with Elmquist chiming in with occasional licks on electric guitar. Kanene Pipkin plays mandolin, and the touring band also includes a drummer, lap steel player, bass player, keyboard player, and a banjo and an additional mandolin player. This set of instruments certainly suggests a country/bluegrass sound, which the band categorizes as “Brooklyn country.”
Elmquist and Pipkin consistently complement Williams’ vocals for incredibly moving three-part harmonies. These harmonies have drawn comparisons to The Civil Wars, which is most likely why Charlie Peacock latched onto the music and choose to produce The Lone Bellow’s debut record.
The opening song was an unfamiliar one to me, as it wasn’t on their self-titled record. But the lack of familiarity didn’t seem to matter, because the band displayed awesome attention-grabbing dynamic power, going from quiet and to extremely loud at what seemed like the perfectly appropriate moments. The quiet moments allowed the acoustic instruments to flourish with simplicity and cut through organically.
Pipkin’s mandolin shone on many songs and blended that bluegrass and old traditional country feel. Williams, Elmquist, and Pipkin belted their impeccable harmonies through the packed lounge to oohs and ahs. It is these vocals that are the bedrock of The Lone Bellows’ songs, but seeing them performed live is another beast altogether. It’s clear they have a certain chemistry together that just seems to click perfectly when they are giving it their all on stage.
There were plenty of grab-your-drink and sing-along moments, like when The Lone Bellow played “You Never Need Nobody,” and by the end of the song, the audience was singing in unison with the band a cappella. This was quite a magical sight, as if everyone in the crowd were of one voice, chanting at the top of its lungs.
The live performance of “Green Eyes and A Heart of Gold” was particular energetic, as members of the audience were frantically jumping up and down, and Williams seemed like he couldn’t stop moving or sweating! Williams had everyone clapping during the entire second chorus. Perhaps all that energy is what caused him to break a string on his acoustic guitar, but it was worth it.
Although most songs were done with a full band, the trio of Elmquist, Williams and Pipkin did sing some tunes on their own. They performed “Two Sides of Lonely” with just a room microphone. The room got so quiet that some of the rock ‘n’ roll music from the nearby venue in the same building called the Hi-Watt penetrated the Mercy Lounge and simmered in the background for several seconds. But as the vocals got stronger and more powerful, the background noise was soon forgotten as the ear-soothing harmonies took control.
The show ended with a jazzier number in which Kanene Pipkin gave an incredibly powerful lead vocal performance, enough to warrant a standing ovation at the song’s conclusion.
The Lone Bellow has a lot going for them right now: an exuberant live show, a great debut album, a lot of buzz, and a grand collection of catchy songs with heartfelt lyrics. I sincerely hope they carry the awesome energy they displayed in Nashville through the rest of their tour.
Here's a video of The Lone Bellow performing "Bleeding Out."
Find out more at www.thelonebellow.com
Andrew Johnson is a Nashville transplant and freelance writer who has written for the Nashville Scene and the music blog No Country For New Nashville. He is also a vocalist, guitarist, and mandolin player in an alternative folk band called Waterfall Wash and a bilingual paralegal. When he’s not plucking the eight-string or the six-string, he’s trying to take over the world through the power of flight.