All Kinds Of Emotional: The Lone Bellow in Concert
Part rock concert, part gospel communion, part therapy session, a Lone Bellow gig is not for the feint-hearted. And that’s without the Savage Garden and Aqua covers. The last time they graced our shores they took the roof off the Lone Bellow at the 100 Club (reviewed for R2 Magazine). It’s a measure of their ascendancy that the ceiling in Islington was considerably higher, grander, and that much more difficult to raise, but a packed Assembly Hall did their best to banish the bricks and mortar, led by a band that whip up a storm quicker than you can say Gertrude.
Together with Justin Glasco (Drums) and Jason Pipkin (Bass, Keys and Kanene’s significant other), the Lone Bellow make straight for the rockier end of the jugular. “If You Don’t Love Me” and “Take My Love” suffered slightly from a yet-to-be-warmed up mix. There’s no questioning the intent: Williams staring into the crowd as if daring them to respond to their muscular invitation, Elmquist already shaving pieces from his Fender with his strumming hand.
The sound began to come together for the opening harmonies of “Marietta,” which got the first of many roaring approvals during the evening, the second arriving shortly after, when Williams announced they are recording the show. This signalled a significant loosening of the restraints on stage and in the room. And, from that point onwards, it was party time.
“Fake Roses” was excellent and followed with some grandstanding from Williams and Elmquist on “You Never Need Nobody,” as they orchestrated a deafening call and response backing from the increasingly febrile audience. At times like this, Williams is a strange combination of lay preacher, circus compere, and arena-rock frontman, all of which shouldn’t work together, but such is the man’s passion and enthusiasm. It’s impossible not to be swept up in his joy.
The pace accelerated on “The One You Should’ve Let Go” and then again with an incendiary “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home.” Elmquist was auditioning for Angus Young’s understudy; you could wring the sweat from his fretboard, were you so inclined.
And what of Pipkin? Content until now to shoulder alternate mandolin and bass duties, her throaty backing vocals were the honey that cures all ills. She stepped up to sing lead on a lovely “Call to War,” one of several standouts on Then Came The Morning. Another was “Watch Over Us,” the merry-go-round of talent stopping for Elmquist’s lead. Both songs distilled the essence of the band, their ability to switch from country to blues, to gospel and four-to-the-floor rock (often within a song), without the seams showing. They can do loud and explosive, restrained and refined, and just about every station-stop in-between. Elmquist turned the break in “Looking for You” into a Spanish siesta.
Even the dialogue between songs was breathless and more akin to stand-up comedy. We were treated to impromptu bursts of Springsteen (“Dancing in the Dark”) and, as introductions were made, snippets of Savage Garden and Aqua – no, really – that were as accurate as they were funny. Each of the three members of this band were openly appreciative of the others’ input, and as the show went on, they were quick to applaud the efforts of the now-vociferous crowd.
For an hour or so, Islington became the home of the Lone Bellow, a large but intimate living room in which sparks flew and senses reeled. The journey to the end was one long sing-along. “Diners” and “Cold As It Is” turned the heat up to 11, and set closer “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” was sung back to the stage in unison.
They returned for “Tree to Grow” and a raucous but moving “Then Came the Morning.” Williams and Elmquist looked like they’d been at the gym for a couple of hours (Pipkin continued to float above the boards as if she was wandering through a summer meadow, despite having given her all). Giving their all is a basic principle of the Lone Bellow, a natural born instinct to entertain.
24 hours later, in a venue as spectacularly different as it was possible to get, the band did it all again.
The Horn is a pub venue in a sleepy commuter town – if there were 150 in the room, it was a miracle – but it was a sell out and there was work to do. The sound was excellent from the start, and it bounced off the black walls and shuddered through us as the band began in fourth gear and rarely let up. The set was sufficiently different to keep serial attendees and the band interested. Before long, though, the crowd was whooping and hollering before, during, and after every song.
“Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” was ferocious in such a small space, Elmquist feeding off the close quarters, the riff slamming into the back wall like a tectonic plate gone awol, building to a huge crescendo. By comparison, “Teach Me to Know” soothed and “To the Woods” was pastoral and lovely. Of particular delight were two new compositions, and “Lovely in Blue” was built on a blues round but has a country feel, led by Kanene with her bandmates on acoustic.
Later, Williams admitted to being nervous as he let a new song out into the open for the first time. “(I’d Walk) Into the Storm” began as a ballad with organ notes underneath from Pipkin, then erupted into a pulsing mid-tempo rocker. Both may change considerably before a final studio mix but bode well for an as-yet-undated third album. The band is on record as saying they write continuously, but if they’re willing to air new material, that journey is obviously well and truly underway.
The evening was punctuated by ongoing banter with a Welsh contingent in the crowd — who, we found out, travelled six hours earlier in the day to see the band — and a cheeky Proclaimers cover organised by Elmquist and Pipkin behind Williams’ back. All this segued into “Green Eyes” as the finale.
Much as the day before, there wasn’t an inch of the space that wasn’t drenched in sweat, not a person in the room who didn’t grin from ear to ear as the lights went up.