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Tuesday, 12 November 2013 11:51

Concert review: The Lone Bellow (with Greg Holden) stomps and stings at the Old Rock House, Sunday, November 10

The Lone Bellow at the Old Rock House The Lone Bellow at the Old Rock House Roy Kasten
Written by Brian Benton

During "You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional," early in the Lone Bellow's set on Sunday night at the Old Rock House, frontman Zach Williams passionately sang, "We can dance around what happened / Play the music and soft and low / But you can be all kinds of emotional."

Those words resonated throughout to the Brooklyn, N.Y.-via-Nashville, Tenn. band's short but memorable show. There was lots of dancing, the sound was at times soft and low (although more often rich and loud), and it certainly did leave all kinds of emotions. The Lone Bellow sound warm and comforting, but bits of tragedy appear in almost every song, and if you take a moment to realize what you're singing along to, it leaves you torn and unsure. Most people in the packed crowd joined in with "Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold," but the words they energetically sang over a backing track of frantic guitars and charging drums formed a desperate tale of losing everything for love.

To start, Greg Holden played a simple, straightforward set with just his smooth, English-tinted voice and an acoustic guitar. The New York-based, Scotland-born singer-songwriter is perhaps best known in the United States for co-writing "Home," the song made popular by American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, and it was clear during his performance that excels at songwriting. While Holden's voice is no joke, his Americana songs told personal tales of the struggles of being a musician and uprooting his life in England to move to the greatest, but at times loneliest, city on Earth.

Holden's words certainly started things off on a somber note. But during the relatively quick set change, the crowd jovially chatted and made the most of the final few hours of the weekend. It wouldn't be long beforetThe Lone Bellow took the stage to share its own personal hardships through song.

I first experienced the Lone Bellow at the 2013 South By Southwest Music Festival, where they stood out as one of my favorite new discoveries of the nearly 60 I saw over the course of a few days. In Austin, I caught an acoustic set with unplugged instruments that seemed more like a a front-porch performance than fully developed show. At the Old Rock House, things were bigger, richer, warmer and fuller, although equally as impressive.

An obvious difference was that in Austin, it was just the three core members and Sunday in St. Louis featured a full band, with a standing bass and sparing but relevant drummer. There also appeared to be an increase in confidence, which allowed the band to elevate their songs and gave them the courage to jokingly sing a Nelly song. Dialogue between songs was kept to a minimum, and when there was conversation, it was generous and relevant.

Mostly wearing vintage vests, collared shirts with rolled up sleeves, and leather boots, the Lone Bellow could be described as Mumford and Sons/Lumineers/Civil Wars look-and-sound alikes, but I think the band stands apart because of the rawness and honesty in its words and its dedication to the roots of country and Americana music. A new song called "A Murder Ballad" was heavier on the traditional and less on the trends, with opening southern riffs and bluesy vocals, taking more from their roots in Nashville than their current home in Brooklyn. A cover of John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" had a similar traditional sound.

"Bleeding Out" was another highlight, with Williams singing the opening first few lines on his own before his band came began to back him up and the song reached a peak of "ba pa da ba pa da's." Typically, one of the Lone Bellow's lead three -- Williams, Kanene Donehey Pipkin, who also plays the mandolin, or Brian Elmquist -- would start off the song before the other members, and oftentimes the crowd, joined in to bring it home.

The Lone Bellow's songs, "A Murder Ballad" and "Bleeding Out" included, feel like trains, taking time to gain speed and momentum before all of the voices and acoustic and electric forces join together. On the record, the songs sound crisp, clear and flawless, and while the live renditions have those traits too, there also is a bit more ruggedness. Sometimes the guitars come out a bit more heavy, and the foot stomps add another layer of life to the songs.

While a few times on Sunday night at the Old Rock House, there were lone bellows, for the most part the sound could better be described as a collection of voices, either just the band or the crowd too, joining together in harmonization and staying positive through the power of tremendous music.

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