I’ve been unlucky when it comes to witnessing The Lone Bellow in concert. Both of their shows that I planned to attend in recent memory (Hi-Dive, Denver, March 2013) and Boulder (last summer) were sacked. But my friends, apparently wonders won’t ever cease. The Lone Bellow did in fact take the stage at the Fox Theatre last night, and I wish they were still on it.
If you turned up at the Fox to strut; if you planned to enjoy the visceral experience of live music through a screen while ignoring the stage; if you were a hot mess; or if for any other reason you were too full of Boulder baloney to listen … then God knows you were in the wrong room last night. The Lone Bellow hold nothing, absolutely nothing, back. If their music teaches anything, it’s a twofold lesson that goes like this. 1) Passion counts. 2) Be relentlessly faithful to your gifts.
It’s a rare band that is chock-full of solo superstar talents so generous to each other as an ensemble. Several times lead singer Zach Williams removed himself from center stage to allow the spotlight to fall squarely on mandolinist and singer Kanene Pipkin. Not even the hardest heart in the room could withstand her take on Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away,” which was performed in the encore. Impeccable three- and four-part harmonies (we heard you, too, bassist Jason Pipkin) were in abundance throughout the set. This of course is a hallmark of The Lone Bellow’s debut album, which was produced by Nashville’s Charlie Peacock.
The show itself kept a fast pace, as did the live delivery of the familiar tunes. I don’t know why, but I was expecting things to be quieter, on the whole. Sure, there were delicate moments when the band’s three principal members gathered around one mic, but songs like “Bleeding Out,” “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” and “The One You Should’ve Let Go” were absolute beasts at full bore. Drummer Brian Griffin and singer/guitarist Brian Elmquist had the most surprises in store, with huge shotgun blast beats and scorching leads, respectively. In fact, Elmquist’s first surprise came when he stagecrashed, shirtless, the set of opening band Hugh Bob & The Hustle. It was Hugh Bob’s last night on the tour and first time in Boulder. They took no prisoners. Great set, fully of chunky, bluesy riffs and some very well written, thoughtful lyrics.
So, let’s see. I’ve basically told my readers that it was a great concert by talented musicians. What is so much harder to describe is the look, the feel, the sound of a band going all in. It’s sweat flying off instruments. It’s singers gasping for air between songs. It’s water bottles littering the stage. It’s the joy on the band’s collective face when the audience sings the chorus back to them. It’s generosity, like when Williams pulled a wild, bare-chested Jeff Fenholt lookalike on stage for a massive group hug. It’s photographers who should be shooting but can’t because they’re dancing. It’s strings breaking. It’s egos kept in check so that the music may touch hearts without manipulating them. All of these things are unpacked by The Lone Bellow night after night. One can appreciate that when tours last months, it’s not easy to be “on” all the time. But this band will give its fans everything it can. After all, it was only four years ago they were sitting around a diner, asking if this is really happening.
The band is touring through the end of the year, mostly in the Southeast and with a few Midwest dates. Go. Go. Go. Come January, we’ll all be blissing out to the new album. If it has half the melodic power of the first or can strike even a little of its balance between folk and pop, we’ll be in for for something special.