The Lone Bellow: Three Sides of Anything But Lonely….

Oh Brooklyn. You’ve killed me with blazing heat, taunted me with snow and have shown me so many frigid nights that I’ve blown more smoke out of my mouth than a Cheech & Chong film. But still, you keep me coming back. Why is this you ask? Well the music for one, and the continued lure that is local band The Lone Bellow. Prospect Park, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall… the hits have just kept coming since the folk-rockers first broke on to the scene with their 2013 self-titled debut. And sure some of those have wandered a bit closer to the city than Brooklyn, but for 2015 the trio of Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin, and Brian Elmquist broke out an exciting two-fold surprise! Firstly, they snapped the curse of the sophomore slump by releasing a superb new album called Then Came The Morning back in January with The National’s Aaron Dessner producing. Then, on the heels of what eventually became an entirely SOLD OUT tour, the much-beloved trio announced that the end of that tour’s first leg would coincide with Brooklyn dates in the Bowery Ballroom as well as the Music Hall of Williamsburg. So as naturally as Batman is called off to fight crime, yours truly responded to the Band-Aid Signal (watch Almost Famous ), found the nearest train and headed due south! Well, it’s more like… going east to go south and there are a LOT of stops, but… that’s not the point. The point is, March 25th and 26th found me front and center to not only see my favorite modern band, but one of the best bands PERIOD. 11082518_431419187022105_9132157320126091366_n

And while I wanna jump right into the action of those two nights, I have to put the brakes on for a moment and acknowledge both the Bowery and Williamsburg. It was my first time experiencing each, and while both are very similar I can’t think of two venues in recent memory that I’ve had more fun being in. 1908275_429246023906088_1456311416115327237_n 11038873_429723223858368_8254736110079099515_n

They’re both extremely intimate (thumbs up from me already), barely-balconied and standing room, without a bad angle of the stage from any side. Not that I was focused much on that in my initial rush to hit the front row, but later I observed just how brilliant the perspectives were from spots around each venue. If I had been of a more casual mindset, I could easily see either the Bowery or Williamsburg being a great place to just tune out to a night of laid back music. Their stage lighting… now that’s a bit of a different story. If I could describe it simply, I would take it in stages. Sometimes it actually looked like watching a great folk band with influences of gospel, blues, country and alternative elements being naturally lit. Then suddenly a transformation would take place (same band mind you), only NOW… I felt like Chvrches or Zola Jesus was committing technicolor sabotage due to some kind of folk-hating grudge. Or in the case of Williamsburg, the crowd would suddenly be bathed in a floodlight so bright it felt like a musical version of Cops was about to take place.   My riffing aside though, lets forget about putting on those brakes and get to why you’re all reading this piece: THE MUSIC. The Lone Bellow. At home in Brooklyn. The trio that made your hearts soar and break, live and in person with a backing band expanded to include horn players (for two nights only!) that helped make the sound of this new record so beautifully glorious. Like a match that went up to heaven, and made it just for your ears. And within these churches of music, within those expectations and hopes and ever-mounting anticipation, The Lone Bellow laid down two sermons of such fiery passion to the congregation that I think Satan himself was keeping watch for the hellhound on his trail.

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From the first moment on the first night in Bowery Ballroom when Zach rushed to the edge of the stage, mic torn from it’s stand as he sang the very fibers out of the new album’s title track… I knew I was home.  Every bit of sweat from his brow I felt like my own, felt like the crowd’s own as we all bled his spirit back to him. Back to Brian, back to Kanene, back to them all. It’s why Lone Bellow fans are some of the easiest and most wonderful to talk to at shows. They’ve experienced that collective emotion and that healing catharsis that’s so startlingly intense… it’s nearly painful. When you talk to them (much like with the band), it’s like talking to family. And in terms of a familial experience, we got two nights of nothing less than the band leaving themselves out there completely. Zach stood out on the title track and left my hair standing on end with “Marietta”, “Take My Love” and personal favorite “Tree To Grow”, while Brian (with his rebellious curl of hair) owned the stark “Watch Over Us” and the choogling gravel of “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” (with Zach providing a homemade choir in the midst of the crowd). Never to be left out though, the ever-angelic Kanene both broke and mended my soul with her latest song “Call To War”, and destroyed a cover of “Slip Slidin Away” that left the crowd absolutely breathless. Okay I can’t speak for the crowd, but to see her hold out her hands and fiercely belt those words into a single mic… she destroys that song. Paul Simon should be bowing down to her. 10409703_429834450513912_3410445970402907472_n

And of course as anyone who’s been to enough Lone Bellow shows will tell you, the band did manage to flex their crazy knack for some unpredictable song medleys. One moment Zach and Brian were bromancing it out with some of Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You”, in another Brian was rapping over Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”, and in yet ANOTHER the trio took on some classic 80’s rock with Prince’s “Purple Rain”. That last one may not have gone over too well according to the band, but the audience was absolutely in love with every second! Maybe that whole wedding band thing could work out after all….

So… what shows. What fun. What body weight lost from perspiration. Pretty much the whole, delicious musical sundae right? Not quite. Much like how once Batman starts fighting crime he can’t seem to stop, the Band Aid Signal beckoned once more and brought with it… massive train failure! I don’t exactly think that’s part of the band-aid contract, but it did put a pretty nice cherry on that sundae…

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Enter the cherry: The Lone Bellow’s Soundcheck session and WNYC’s Greene Space. I had heard that this session would be taking place shortly after I left the city, but thanks to whatever divine intervention is responsible for train failure, I found myself in a room of 30-40 people along with these wonderful talents. 22706_431418333688857_4181543346400507929_n 11102741_431427843687906_6575469327326800849_n

Sounds pretty good right? Unfortunately (and it’s a minor unfortunately), the whole gathering was only about an hour or so. Still, it was wonderful to hear the band run through four new songs from the record, do a small interview, and take some questions from the crowd. I personally thought the interview segment wasn’t necessary, but as the video below shows I think it went pretty well anyway.

But now I’m back home again, and my review is at an end for this post. Honestly the Lone Bellow material is barely half of my fun Brooklyn music stories, but I think I’ll save the rest of the trip for another post. Until then, I leave you with a picture from Bowery Ballroom. If nothing else I’ve said has convinced you about The Lone Bellow, if my review and my words and my feelings have not done it, read these faces. They’ll tell all the rest of the story that needs to be explained. Oh and Brooklyn? Thanks again. 10997715_429745293856161_2007159500268163582_n

(both videos and all photos but the last courtesy of Mara S., or @watchingforthesigns on Instagram)

To Brooklyn, With Love: A Year’s Retrospective

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A lot can happen in a year. I like to think that in 24 of them perhaps I’ve begun to peck at the grains of sand on this eternal beach; maybe taken something back with me that’s going to last. Though more often than not when I think of the years I’ve had, I come to the conclusion that I’ve been asleep until this last one. That the womb isn’t just nine months, but a gestation of years to not only stand on my own two feet, but to feel the dunes etched beneath them when the moments become mine. When these months became mine.

And if I were to confide that in a postcard and take the time to send it anywhere, I would send it with my thanks to music. I would send it with white roses care of love. And I would send it to Brooklyn, where the brightest stars that could ever hope to burn in my night sky began where music and love met with you.

Enter Brooklyn’s Bandshell in the summer of 2013, when the tail of my comet was just arching across that orange sky with yours. Between the sting of the heavy raindrops that day we crossed paths with a young debuting Brooklyn band called The Lone Bellow, and out under that lit up night sky we were forever changed by Zach, Kanene and Brian’s music. “Watch Over Us” hung like a prayer left wondering, their unexpected take on “Angel From Montgomery” dazzled with raw power, and the trio moved like a wrecking ball of intimate catharsis and razor wired passion. I had never felt more alive seeing three people leave every ounce of themselves bleeding out and spent on a stage before. It would never have meant as much as it has to my life since though, were it not for you.

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The Lone Bellow became our music, our discovery so special that it’s become worthy of a movie like “Almost Famous”. Which is ironic considering that several months after the Bandshell came that hometown show for the trio at NYC’s Carnegie Hall, in which getting second row tickets (on that tip from Zach himself) landed us smack dab in the middle of a family reunion. Thanks to that one little conversation with him at the Bandshell, we went from what were simply good seats to a backstage meeting arranged by his mother and the six best words every obsessed music fan wants to hear, “don’t worry…. you’re with the mom”. It was in the span of this night that I think we actually lived a part of “Almost Famous”, and from then on… well, we’re gonna be forever tied to one of our favorite bands of all time.

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And of course there was your fan request in Geneva’s Smith Opera House this year for new song “Diners”, talking casually outside the Smith with Kanene who REMEMBERED us (which will never cease to blow my mind), crazy speculating on their next album (followed by many continued plays of that homemade “Then Came The Morning” bootleg), and watching the band come home again to Lincoln Center just a month ago to play alongside the likes of the famed Roseanne Cash. I could recount to you a mountain of these memories (and the greatest crowd rebellion known to music at that very Lincoln Center show) and I still don’t think it could begin to be a ripple on the surface of that pond. Every note, every bend, every cue and every Zach as Tarzan chest pound…. is like standing in the echo chamber and behind the wizard’s curtain of music and it’s beating heart. And that’s less of a postcard and more of a love letter when it gets right down to it.

I suppose that’s what this is too. I started to write these recollections imagining them for the consumption of a faceless somebody, but instead that face became etched with so many things so personal to me. This band. This year. You. Getting to write the most meaningful musical words I can think of that I didn’t wanna share with just a somebody, but the ones I wanted to share with MY somebody. Even if we’ve already taken the steps in this dance together and know it’s rhythm, it was this beat I’d been waiting for longer than I ever could have guessed in all these years.

As Zach says in “Two Sides of Lonely”, we were alone together in Brooklyn. Little did I know that was the best place to start, pinkies entwined.

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