It is the end of February and just about everyone is sick of the cold. The line outside of Lee’s Palace was long, but it moved quickly and efficiently. Everyone just wanted to get in and out of the bitter wind as soon as possible, as such the venue started filling up fairly quickly considering the opening act wasn’t coming on for quite some time. When Odessa an LA based singer songwriter came out the crowd was ready to be engaged. Her soulful shy singing was very intimate while her gently plucked guitar and backing lap pedal welcomed us all in. Odessa who is also a backing member of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros gave the crowd something to be interested in as her debut album is about to drop in a few months.
Even though the show was sold out and the venue was full, Lee’s Palace didn’t feel overwhelmingly packed. The atmosphere was comfortably intimate. The Lone Bellow quickly walked on stage and set up behind their gear before lead singer Zach Williams came out. As soon as he stood by his mic stand the band launched in Then Came The Morning, the title track of their newest album that only came out a month ago. With such power and force the band demanded control of the stage and held the crowd tight right from the get go. Williams was throwing his whole body into the song as he beat on his chest, heaved his arms around nearly keeled over signing full volume into the microphone. He had the authority of a soul singer mixed with a preacher at a Baptist church. It was a transfixing performance by a much more comfortable band than the one I saw a year ago play at Horseshoe Tavern.
The band wasted no time between songs and played several new songs right off the bat. Fake Roses was a seducing number punctuated by Kanene Pipkin who sung softly into her mic but it didn’t dampen her harmonies, which were stunning to hear live. During the quiet finale the crowd just cheered louder making it one of the loudest intimate shows I have ever seen. The bond between the band and the audience was very intense, pushing each other further and further for bigger rewards. Even though the band has mandolin and upright bass filled songs their music often straddles what is considered roots and Americana with many other influences like rock, folk, jazz, disco and soul. The bands backing drummer seemed to keep the group grounded in country music with his big playing making them seem ready made for a stadium tour.
During the first few notes of You Never Need Nobody the crowd recognized the tune and started singing along right away. Williams decided to use this to his advantage and started conducting the crowd. He flung his arms around like someone conducting a church choir, with audience members raising arms to testify about the power of music. Williams was so intently playing his acoustic guitar he managed to snap a string almost as soon as he started playing causing him to have to quickly throw it off and improvise. Normally musicians would just play with the remaining five chords but Williams decided to take this opportunity to play up his front man role.
Pipkin played her bass at times like she was backing early versions of The Who creating a fun back beat. Guitarist Brian Elmquist was on a mission to play every good-looking throwback style guitar being made alternating styles but always being in control while not taking the spotlight away from the singing. During a song where Pipkin and Elmquist were soloing Williams walked off the stage and onto the bar tables that are standing height to get certain sections of the crowd to clap along to the song.
For Tree To Grow the backing band left the stage as an omnidirectional microphone was set up in the middle of the stage and the three members stood around it to sing together. Their blended voices have the right amout of differences to all compliment each other wonderfully. Pipkin took over lead vocals for the song turning in a stunning and breathtaking performance. Her husky, whisky-tinged voice would make Janis Joplin look on approvingly if she were still around. At the end of the song Elmquist seemed blown and acknowledged that we were all witnessing a special moment of musical clarity. While the show started out as the Zach Williams show, it was clearly about highlighting all three members each getting their time to shine and stand out to the crowd with their unique influences and charms.
Williams seemed to have a funny joke or interesting little story to tell in between songs. His candor makes him so likeable, especially when he says things like “It’s odd knowing that people listen to a song that you wrote in your living room. It’s an honour to play for you guys” showing off his sincerity. Williams also had the crowd eating out of his hand. At one point he said the band will be playing a waltz and wanted every person in the room to “turn around and dance with someone. Let’s turn this place into an old saloon” causing almost the whole crowd to dance like a wedding band was on stage switching the script of how you should dance at a concert. Towards the end of a song they threw in their rendition of I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) exclaiming, “We love you Whitney Houston!”
The playfulness between members was felt when Williams was introducing the band and claimed that when Elmquist sweats it smells like roses and Pipikin chimed in that he usually only wearing jorts ending with a comparison that he looks like Daisy Duke in the summer by his own admission. “This is a sad song hidden in a fun melody” was the intro for You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To. At one point Elmquist added a little flourish at the end of a verse on his guitar that actually threw Williams off his game and wonder where this little solo came from laughing as he missed his next line. The very long set ended with a frenetically fast paced version of Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold, a standout track from their first album. The music was powered by an incredible kick drumbeat that pulsed through the venue getting everyone moving all around again.
For the start of the bands encore they once again stood around a mic for a somber take on Two Sides of Lonely, showing the bands full range of emotions. Looking through the discography the band managed to play almost all of their tunes from both albums with the show clocking in at two hours playing until almost 1AM. The last song of the set was Bleeding Out. Williams asked us to pretend we were in an Irish pub while we wrapped arms around our neighbour’s shoulders and screamed at the top of our lungs the “Bah ba dah’s” of the chorus. With Williams screaming the last verse while the crowd and the rest of the band providing the backing vocals it was an intense moment of connection between artist and listener. These guys make playing look fun and come so easily to them. Expect with their radio friendly songs and catchy playing for the band to blow up like other folk/country/rock bands before them. They are every bit as talented as their peers, and make up in stage presence for any shortcomings people might try to nitpick and find.
Thanks to Collective Concerts for media access.