Given the rate and continuous high energy of the Lone Bellow’s still-ongoing tour schedule, it’s not only remarkable to think this band has only existed since last year, but that I have to keep trying to pick out a favorite performance. Before now, I’d seen the red hot trio that is Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin, and Brian Elmquist deliver their unique brand of hometown “Brooklyn country music” under the star-lined trees of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, within the illustrious confines of the staggering Carnegie Hall, and between the soon-vacated tables of Buffalo NY’s understated venue The Tralf. So needless to say, the bar was set fairly high above the ground going into this one.
Enter June 7th with Geneva NY’s Smith Opera House, which provided a blend of that small venue intimacy against the continued backdrop of Western New York’s highly underrated theatre culture. While it may not have the name recognition of a Carnegie or the talent pool of a Broadway, the historical value of places like the Smith add both character and in most cases, exceptional acoustics for concerts or events like this. But back to my point here.
The music. While it was a headlining night for one of Brooklyn’s finest new bands, Rochester NY’s own Roses & Revolutions weren’t about to be left out of the equation. Duo Alyssa Coco and Matt Merritt mesmerized the crowd with a stripped-down set of songs that showcased their deeply talented pop/singer-songwriter blend, led by Coco’s rich vocals and Merritt’s spaciously appealing guitar. The two danced nimbly between originals from a couple of EP’s in their forty minute performance, along with a dash of reinvented covers that included Coldplay’s “The Scientist” and Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. While kept at a musical pace that was largely quiet and contemplative, the mood of the two Roses was a mellowing yet uplifting fit for the spell of the evening.
And not a moment too soon, because then it was time to be witness to what I can only swear is one of the holiest experiences in all of music: The Lone Bellow. The three took to the stage(accompanied by drummer Brian Griffin and bassist Jason Pipkin) and immediately launched into a new song called “I Let You Go”, which felt like taking a slow, deep breath of country-folk before deciding to skydive down into it. Frontman Zach Williams, bedecked in a collared shirt and suspenders that made him look like the protagonist of a 40’s detective film, soon had the crowd dashing from the seats to the stage as he and his bandmates stomped, clapped, riffed and harmonized through most of the songs off their debut release, as well as a few previews of what might follow later this year.
As utterly heartrending as he could be exuberant, Williams’ Tarzan leaps, flying clouds of sweat and brilliant musicianship could only be matched by the sheer talent of his counterparts. Brian Elmquist’s contributions were a powerhouse for much of the evening, mixing Carl Perkins-esque riffing(“Georgia Will”), intense leads(“Diners”), and aching gospel folk(“Watch Over Us”) into the group’s new songs, while Kanene Pipkin continues to be one of the most powerfully dynamic female vocals on the rustic side of indie music. She simultaneously commands and demands attention simply through her voice, and songs like “Button” and “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To” shine because of it.
Combine that with their ability to be cued and attuned to one another, and I feel like intimate shows this powerfully bled out onto the stage are only going to become more rare for The Lone Bellow as they move onto their sophomore record and the popularity that will inevitably follow it. Someday I’ll have to say “I knew them when”, but as Sheryl Crow would say, for now “I’m gonna soak up the sun”.