Friday, June 14, 2013
The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA
I saw six bands in three venues in two states in just 28 hours over the weekend. I can tell it’s nearly summer vacation for this teacher! Here’s installment one of three.
My friend Andrea and I had tickets to see The Lone Bellow in April at Brighton Music Hall, but we weren’t ready to go to Boston just hours after the lockdown was lifted and the Boston Marathon suspects captured. My friend Bob was there and said it was a poignant night. He texted me a week later to let me know The Lone Bellow was coming back to Boston in June and I bought tickets that second. I don’t remember exactly when The Lone Bellow came into my life—probably very early in 2013—but life is better with their passionate, soulful music in it.
I gave a final exam Friday morning and hurried out of the building later that afternoon to meet Andrea to drive to Cambridge together. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we oddly encountered no traffic on our way to Harvard Square. We ended up parking directly in front of The Sinclair and the ease of travel and parking gave us a lot of unexpected time to enjoy Harvard Square. We walked around and listened to some buskers, caught Catie Curtis’ sound check while having a delicious dinner at Veggie Planet at Club Passim, and enjoyed chocolate coconut vegan ice cream from JP Licks. We checked in at The Sinclair about half an hour before doors opened and ran into Julie, who I met at an Audra Mae/Matt Nathanson show in January of 2012 and have seen again and again at random shows. She gave Andrea and I the rundown of The Sinclair. We were tenth in line to get in and they saved me a spot touching the stage while I picked up my photo pass at the box office (thanks, Tracy Zamot!).
Andrea, Julie, and I chatted with Kellen, Kristen, and Peter who were standing directly behind us. One of the things I most love about live music is its power to bring people together. Boston’s The Ballroom Thieves took the stage and really impressed. Martin on lead vocal and guitar, Rachel on cello, and Devin on drums brought a lot of energy, great harmonies, lots of crowd interaction, and I liked their songs, too. I’m listening to their EP The Devil & The Deep right now. I missed them in Maine a couple of months ago and won’t make that mistake again. I especially liked their new song “Anchors” and “Coward’s Son,” which is on the Boston Strong Music Compilation to benefit The One Fund. Andrea and I both wanted to grab their EP after the show and I discovered that Martin is also from Maine and we went to rival high schools. We’ve agreed to not hold it against each other!
Brooklyn’s Swear and Shake took the stage dressed to impress! The boys wore sharp suits and ties and Kari looked amazing in her black and white ensemble. They were happy to be back in Boston and reminisced a little about past shows around town, including one with my college classmate’s band, Kingsley Flood. I liked their song, “Brother,” which they made a music video for in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The band recently premiered the video there and the mayor gave them a key to the city. Kari broke a string, but played “These White Walls” with just five remaining strings to wrap their set. I met Adam and Kari after the show on my way out the door and let them know I’d be seeing them the next night opening for ZZ Ward in Portland, Maine. Kari was a sweetheart. For as much as I typically don’t like to talk to musicians (what if they’re not great in person and then you can’t like their music anymore?!), I chatted with a lot of talented and friendly folks at The Sinclair that night.
I nearly don’t have the words to talk about seeing The Lone Bellow live. It was overwhelming, powerful, heartbreaking, heartwarming, inspiring, amazing. Definitely one of the best shows I’ve seen. Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Pipkin were joined by Jason Pipkin on upright bass and Brian Griffin on drums. Their chemistry and closeness was obvious. They took already emotional songs and delivered with more desperation and authenticity than I thought could be possible. It was a magical night.
The force of the lyrics made more sense after I learned that The Lone Bellow came about after Zach’s wife was critically injured in a horseback riding accident. They were told she’d be a quadriplegic, and Zach poured out his feelings in a journal that he kept by his side while they lived together, surrounded by their dear friends, in the hospital. A friend suggested the diary entries would make beautiful songs, and when Zach’s wife miraculously recovered, the whole friend group packed up and moved to New York City to pursue their dreams.
I’m generally bad with song titles, but I’ve listened to The Lone Bellow’s debut self-titled album so many times that I recreated the set list from the night pretty easily:
1. “You Can Be All Kinds Of Emotional”
4. “Tree To Grow”—we were asked to sing along and Kanene gave me a thumbs up!
5. “Green Eyes And A Heart Of Gold”
6. “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To”—a song Zach said was about marital strife
7. “Button”—a song Kanene sang for her dad who is from Boston
8. “Fire Red Horse”—Zach said they don’t often play this live and I was so happy to hear it!
9. Cover of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” that was dedicated to a couple in the audience who met at a Lone Bellow show a few years ago, fell in love, got married, and are expecting a baby
10. “Bleeding Out”—Kanene said her sister calls it their “empanada” song. Zach added that his daughter calls it the “banana” song.
11. One of Brian’s songs. “Water Over Us?” I didn’t catch the title.
12. A new song—“You Couldn’t Be True”
13. “The One You Should’ve Let Go”
14. Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away”
Zach spoke the most for the band and thanked us profusely for listening to their songs and making them our own. He seemed genuinely humbled and told us how beautiful it was to be in the room with us. There were funny moments during the show, too, like when Zach told us that Brian overheard him singing “Drops of Jupiter” in the shower years ago and told him he should really sing in front of people. They started playing a song, realized it wasn’t the one they’d meant to play, and joked that their songs “all sound alike.” They obliged a very engaged sold out crowd with a two-song encore. Kanene took the lead and blew me away with a fantastic, rich cover of “Slip Slidin’ Away.” They left us with heavily gospel influenced “Teach Me To Know.” I found myself singing the “Carried Away” refrain from that song for a long while after the show. I’ve rarely been so uplifted after a show. Andrea and I mingled in the lobby for a while afterwards and then hit the road for our three-hour drive home. I pulled into my driveway at 3:30 AM still energized after a beautiful night of music.
Oh, Lone Bellow, you are amazing. I introduced my dear friend Bartlett to The Lone Bellow and he saw them the night before me opening for Brandi Carlile in New Hampshire. He texted me later—“They’re so great. They stole the show. Thanks a million bazillion for suggesting them!” The Lone Bellow should be on your must-listen list (Bob Boilen at NPR suggested them in 2012, actually). Check out their NPR Tiny Desk Concert as a starting point. You will be inspired.