I'm not a religious man. In fact, it's safe to say that I'm about as much of an atheist as you can be without being a prick about it like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. That caveat aside, there are moments in life that I still define as "spiritual..." those moments where a combination of overwhelming beauty and the sense of being part of something incomprehensibly larger than yourself collide to create those fleeting glimpses of the possible grandeur of life.
When I saw Paul McCartney headline Bonnaroo in 2013 and witnessed a 100,000 person swath of humanity -- a mix of old and young -- trumpeting the chorus of "Hey Jude," I not only felt connected to every one lost in that transcendent performance by one of the true gods of rock and roll, I felt connected to everyone who had loved the Beatles for the last 50 years. The first time I ever listened to Ágætis byrjun
by Sigur Rós I cried because I had never listened to an album that unrepentantly and otherworldly beautiful, and I doubt I ever will again. Any time I watch Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life
, I am swept away in the very marrow of the human experience.
Last night's set at the Music Hall of Williamsburg
by Brooklyn folk trio the Lone Bellow
was a true spiritual experience. Perhaps it's the fact that so much of the Lone Bellow's music is rooted in the communal ecstasy of gospel; maybe it's the fact that Zach Williams is Jerry Lee Lewis reborn once he's on stage -- bouncing around like an evangelical minister possessed by the Holy Spirit; it's definitely the fact that with each note the band sings you can feel their passion and sincerity and authenticity ringing through. Whatever it ultimately boiled down to, the Lone Bellow have the ingredients for music's Philosopher's Stone: a sound that transcends generational lines, that transcends genre lines, and sound that transcends the aloof distance that sadly defines so much of modern music.
I've never been to an indie show with a crowd that leaned as old as it did at the Music Hall, but it's not difficult to grasp why. A 38 year old man from DC had traveled all the way from our nation's capital to see The Lone Bellow. It was his fourth show on the tour -- last night's show was the final show of the tour itself. And when I asked why he would travel all the way from DC to see the band (not knowing yet that he'd already seen them three other times), his answer was simple. The Lone Bellow made music that mattered.
I talked to several people that evening who had traveled up and down the Eastern seaboard to see the Lone Bellow play multiple stops on their tour. And by the end of the set, huge portions of the crowd were dancing like churchgoers at the Pentecostal churches I attended growing up. That's an intense following for a band who were virtual unknowns just two years ago, but if you see the Lone Bellow live once, you'll understand why. Bands can't fake the presence and charisma the Lone Bellow make effortless. I worried that Zach Williams was going to have a heat stroke on stage as buckets of sweat poured off of him as he brought new life and meaning to each word in every song they played. You could see it in the rapturous pleasure written into Kanene Donehey Pipkin's face as she lost herself in the grooves of her mandolin and the intricate vocal harmonies that are the Lone Bellow's calling card and as Brian Elmquist brought an electric energy to his guitar that translates with more bravado than their already excellent studio records ever got across. Also, any band that does alt-country covers of Blackstreet's "No Diggity" and Prince's "Purple Rain" get all the bonus points in my book.
has potential, but without dedicated percussion live, her admittedly gorgeous mellow guitar numbers began to bleed into one another. The Lone Bellow brought her out to perform one of her songs with the band however, and during that number with a full sound behind her, it was easy to see why the Lone Bellow are such big fans. If she can translate that energy more consistently, she'll be an artist to watch.
That Lone Bellow set was like great sex. By the end, you're a sweaty, exhausted mess, but ten minutes later, you want to do it all over again. I was both tired and worn out beyond belief at the end of their over two hour-long show, but I also felt rejuvenated. I was reminded of what exactly it is that I love about live music. It's that feeling you get when you leave a show and everybody is turning to total strangers in the crowd raving about how life-affirming the set was. Half the time, it feels like the most you can ask for from a concert is that it was fun and that a band plays the songs you want to hear. The Lone Bellow's set was fun, and the band played almost all of the songs from both of their records. But, that set was more than that. The Lone Bellow took us to the church of their music, and I'm ready to go back the first chance I get.
Be sure to check out our exclusive session with the Lone Bellow above and continue below for some more photos from this once in a lifetime performance at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.