The Lone Bellow opened their show Friday night at The Egg’s Swyer Theater in a bold way. The three members sang a cappella “I Let You Go” a few feet away from one microphone. The harmonies were soft, slow and delicate. No room for a mistake here. Without warming up themselves or the crowd, it was a brave way to start the show.
They followed this format for the second tune, though the song had more pace and energy. Halfway through this one, Brian Elmquist stopped the tune due to a mistake he made. Rather than cover it up, he laughed, apologized, and launched back into it. It is always nice to see a genuine moment, and a band not afraid to show they are human. The audience was theirs from that point on.
Zach Williams led the show, singing most leads. He occasionally moved more like an American Idol contender than a roots-grounded singer: He bent over for the big notes, waved his hand above his head during a long note, held his chest at one point for added drama.
Many of the tunes played like a soundtrack to a quality 20-something romance movie. There were a few great sad ones, like “Marietta,” with the line, “the loneliness burned through your door,” and “If You Don’t Love Me (then let me go).”
Elmquist led one tune that had an Elvis Presley feel, drums thumping on the tom toms. Here Williams stepped off the stage to conduct the audience for a call-and-response gospel session. It was good, fresh and the crowd roared when it was over.
The audience, interestingly, ranged from 20-somethings to 50-plus couples. That’s a good sign for the band.
Kanene Donehey Pipkin, the third member of the trio, got her turn to lead halfway through the show, singing a dramatically pretty song from the album “Then Came the Morning,” called “Call to War,” with the final line repeated “love will see the armies fall.” While she spent most of the night on mandolin, she also moved from keyboard to bass at various points.
Her husband, Jason Pepkin, played bass and keys as well.
“We’re going to do some rock ’n’ roll,” Williams said before playing “Take My Love.” It bounced hard and loud, like Kings of Leon at full throttle, but it wasn’t quite rock ’n’ roll. It did prompt two young women to dance in the back row, and they danced for the remainder of the show.
For an encore, they played a fantastic gospel version of Paul Simon’s “Slip Sliding Away,” led by Kanene Pipken on vocals, who turned it up here more than she had during any other part of the show.
To their credit, there was minimal talking for such an intimate settting. Williams introduced the band and then each band member said one fact about Williams, which included: he has more clothes than any other member, he is a cat person — Williams denied this — and he has three daughters.
After one song, an audience member yelled, “We love you guys,” and the drummer said, “Thanks, mom.” Pretty funny. Pepkin told us later that his mother was actually in the audience.
They played a great song off the latest album called “Diners,” right out of the Americana songbook, complete with shouting choruses. Elmquist played a guitar solo here, which was OK, but the best part was seeing the band get into it together, without vocals, for the first and maybe only time. Not sure why Williams introduced it as a country song, it was the best blues of the night.
This whole renewed hipness of American roots music is strong and promising. Its popularity continues to grow and Lone Bellow is on track to help lead its growth. Friday night’s show was great.