Monday, February 23, 2015
Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine
*If you are strapped for time, the short version of this post is that The Lone Bellow is my favorite band and their live show is the most passionate, heartfelt experience you’ll be lucky enough to be part of. Read their deeply personal biography in this intimate Josh Jackson feature in Paste Magazine for context. Watch this Lone Bellow concert filmed by Front Row Boston, or, better yet, just trust me and go see them in person!*
What a beautiful day! My friend Colin asked me to join him for a private concert with The Lone Bellow (TLB) at 98.9 WCLZ’s Studio Z in the afternoon and we were back in front of the stage at Port City Music Hall just a couple of hours later to see their full show. We chatted briefly with the band, too, (which I normally avoid) and they were down to earth and grateful we liked their music so much. Phew. That’s gone badly before.
Colin and I grabbed a delicious dinner at Empire and hurried back to PCMH to be there when the doors opened. It was 3 degrees. And there was a line outside. We grabbed a spot behind a couple of women front and center named Bobbie and Abra who happen to write TreeToGrow.com, a Lone Bellow fan site. I started chatting with Dave and Kathy who were standing right behind me when they mentioned the Arcade Fire show I’d missed in Bangor this summer while I was driving cross-country. They mentioned that they live in Farmingdale and then a woman standing near us leaned in to say she and her husband live there, too. It turns out that Kelly and her husband Joe are both teachers and that Kelly’s dad and I worked together for over a decade at Mt. Ararat High School. Another woman standing on my other side overheard me mention Mt. Ararat and told me that she attended and then taught at Brunswick High School and we compared names and know a lot of the same people. I mention all of this because it was such a lovely experience and true to what the best possible concert experience can be when you find yourself surrounded by people because of music and find other things you have in common. I have a handful of friends who I only know because of our shared interest in music (Colin included), and I really appreciate the power of music to connect people.
The lights dimmed and Odessa took the stage. Odessa played electric guitar and was joined by two female musicians—one on bass and the other on guitar and lap steel guitar. Odessa’s voice was light and airy and their harmonies were strong, especially on “Hummed Low.” “I Will Be There” was definitely the standout of their set. Their short opening set was quite mellow and I would have loved some audience interaction. Check out this feature on Odessa—the “Best of What’s Next” in Paste Magazine for some background.
Set up for The Lone Bellow’s set went quickly and they took the stage just after 9 PM and opened (appropriately) with “Cold As It Is.” Next up was “Then Came The Morning,” which is hymn-like with beautiful harmonies. Kanene talked about the song during their Studio Z performance earlier and mentioned that the woman on the cover of the album embodies the theme of the song because despite whatever she faces she gets up every morning and does her hair and makeup and goes to breakfast at the same diner. Something I appreciate about TLB is the depth and honesty of their lyrics. Consider the lyrics to “Then Came The Morning”—“Take my words, breathe them out like smoke/Burn every single letter that I wrote/Let the pages turn to ash, I don’t want them back/Everything you always said to me/Starts to sound like broken glass on streets/Spread out all over places where I sleep/Now you finally left me/Done with all your lying/Joy comes in the morning/You won’t see me crying.” The Lone Bellow doesn’t shy away from the hurt. They embrace it, reflect on it, and lift it up so the listener can share in it with them and feel a little better because we can relate. It’s a rawness—a realness, truth—that pervades their music and makes it genuine and compelling.
This is how Zach Willams welcomed us. Clapping on top of the monitor while leaning over the crowd. Such a great stage presence.
Brian Elmquist, Zach Williams, and Kanene Pipkin of The Lone Bellow
Justin Glasco on drums
The playful side of The Lone Bellow
Husband and wife Jason and Kanene Pipkin
Zach joined us in the crowd a number of times
Did anyone else notice that TLB played nearly every song they’ve ever recorded for us? I took a look at the set list Colin posted online and they only left five of their songs off the night’s set list. Talk about giving it everything you’ve got. They got the crowd clapping and singing along during “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” from their self-titled debut album and then brought it right down with a trio of slow songs—“Call To War,” “Watch Over Us,” and “Two Sides of Lonely.” “Call To War” features Kanene’s lush, raspy voice and it is definitely my favorite on Then Came The Morning. “Watch Over Us” is transcendent. You can always hear a pin drop in the room when Brian, Zach, and Kanene stand around a single microphone and belt that heart-wrenching, beautiful song.
“Watch Over Us”
Zach was charming as always and kept the audience engaged even between songs. He said they’d gone to Becky’s Diner and he’d eaten the nine-pound omelet called the Titanic. Someone shouted out that they should try Marcy’s Diner and he asked if Becky and Marcy are friends or if they’re in a fight over a fisherman.
98.9 WCLZ has played TLB’s “You Never Need Nobody” for a long while now, and the sold out crowd at PCMH was thrilled to hear it live. Kanene stunned (as always) on “Button.” Zach talked about working with Aaron Dessner from The National on their latest album at Dreamland Studio in Woodstock, New York. If you think you hear gospel influence in their music, you certainly do—and the album was recorded in a converted church for good measure.
Zach introduced the band—including Kanene’s husband Jason Pipkin (“the only man in the band with elbow pads, so he could slip and fall and it would be no problem”) and new drummer Justin Glasco—and got into some 80s references about shoulder pads and they broke out into Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True” for a hot second. TLB wrapped their high-energy, leave-it-all-on-the-stage set with “Take My Love” and the crowd went wild. The energy was palpable. TLB came back to wow us a bit more with “Tree to Grow” and “Teach Me to Know.” Zach took a long pause towards the end of “Tree to Grow” and there was silence in the packed room. It’s incredible to see a band be able to draw a crowd in like that. We enthusiastically sang along on the “carried away” refrain of “Teach Me to Know” as the magical night came to an end.
Zach giving us the thumbs up at the end of the night
The Lone Bellow is my favorite band and this was a dream of a night. Thank to you everyone, especially the band, for such a wonderful evening.
Here are other posts I’ve written about The Lone Bellow:
June 2013 at The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA
November 2013 at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine
February 2014 at Portsmouth Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
July 2014 at South Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
February 2015 in Studio Z at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine