Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
decade later, The Lone Bellow isn't afraid to look back to their self-titled debut disc. That's a good thing given the plethora of sturdy material on the release not to mention the fact that the band readily makes these songs as fresh as ever today.
The Lone Bellow was in the midst of a tour of the eastern U.S. to pay tribute to its debut. The Lone Bellow's Kanene Pipkin said after the show that she has recalled going to these shows by other bands and always liking it. So why not have The Lone Bellow repeat the magic?
Only the show did not start out that way as The Lone Bellow turned to "Honey," the second single from their fifth studio disc, "Love Songs for Losers" to get the evening rolling. This was indicative how the rest of the night would go with often soaring three-part harmonies and vocals from lead singer Zach Williams, guitarist Brian Elmquist and Pipkin.
After following up with "Is It Ever Gonna Be Easy" from "Walk Into a Storm," it was the meat-and-potatoes of the debut disc in order until the encore. Now sometimes that could be called a bad move, but the songs themselves are just so good that it did not matter. Typically, one would expect the audience singalong of "Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold" to be much further down the set list, but, hey, it was the first song on "The Lone Bellow" and a damn good one at that.
Williams' singing has a bit of a soulful edge to it, and he is as good a front person as ever, sometimes thrusting his hands in the air for added effect and clearly appreciative of the reception from the crowd of about 400.
Elmquist put some teeth into the songs with his often understated guitar playing, while Pipkin threw in a lighter touch by employing the mandolin on many songs. For added measure, Tyler James punctuated "Looking For You" with trumpet.
This was not your typical show from The Lone Bellow when it came to the setlist, but nothing's much changed over the course of the decade for the trio when it comes to well-conceived and presented songs. It was a most happy anniversary indeed.
Stephen J. Wilson Jr. opened with a musically dense set. Introducing himself as "Stephen Wilson Jr., and I am my father's son," Wilson is dealing with his not so easy past – his father, who died five years ago, raised Wilson and his two siblings - in the present. Wilson just released his label debut, a 22-song effort on Big Loud, and it's more raucous live than it is on the recording where the country influences are clearer. Tyler Childers is a reference point.
In the flesh, Wilson was on revved up acoustic guitar accompanied by only a drummer and pedal steel player and sympatico with The Cadillac 3 sonically. Wilson, however, was a bit hard to decipher vocally with a sound that was not always so clear.
There's a welcome intensity about Wilson, who bounded across the stage numerous times. He returned to sing the first encore song of The Lone Bellow's set, his own "Grief Is Only Love" with the headliners helping out on backing vocals. Lines like "Life is a battlefield/And it'll drag you right through hell " make it clear where Wilson is coming from. Obviously, The Lone Bellow liked what they heard enough to give Wilson that kind of face time. Wilson could not be accused of sugarcoating life. There's a lot to be said for honesty.