For Lynchburg native Kanene Donehey Pipkin of the Lone Bellow, Tuesday evening’s show at The Birchmere was a homecoming. Her parents were in the audience, and they got to see a terrific set, full of the group’s signature three-part vocal harmonies.
Ten years ago, The Lone Bellow released their first, self-titled album. Reflecting back, Zach Williams said, “We weren’t sure if this was going to work.” But the album resonated with people, and, soon enough, the trio — their third member is Atlanta’s Brian Elmquist — found themselves taking time off from their day jobs to play songs like “Watch Over Us” and “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” at a festival for eight thousand fans.
Introducing “Where Your Heart Is” at The Birchmere on May 23, Zach opined on how, strangely, many people have told him about playing this song at their wedding. The song is more of a heartbroken ballad than a positive long song. I was reminded of John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats talking about how he refuses to play “No Children,” which includes the line, “I hope you die,” at weddings. It really makes you wonder how much people listen to the words, how much they really pay attention, or whether they’re just vibing with the sound.
This group is nothing if not self-aware. After Lindsay Lou, who opened the show, joined them to sing “Ready To Believe In Love,” Kanene said, “It was nice to hear a happy song. Don’t get used to it.” They then played the downcast “Count On Me.”
The set began with “Telluride.” “Homesick,” Zach explained, was influenced by the words of John Prine. “I didn’t know him personally,” he said, “but we had the honor of singing with him on stage a few times.” On one of those occasions, John said, “If you’re homesick, it just means you love somebody,” which became a line in the chorus of the song.
Watch The Lone Bellow perform “Homesick” for 90.9 The Bridge on YouTube:
This show had a lot of audience involvement. The band got the audience to clap along on “Like You Used,” and opener Lindsay Lou started her set with an a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace,” inviting the audience to join her. It was a strong opening gambit: it got the audience’s attention and got them involved in the show. The thing about openings, whether it’s a performance or a story, is that you have to grab your audience’s attention very quickly, and Lindsay did that successfully.
“Fallin’,” they explained is a “love song for grownups.” Of “The Cost of Living,” Kanene said, “it’s expensive,” and I feel that, especially living here. The set included a cover of The National’s “Pink Rabbits,” as well as their own “You Never Need Nobody,” and it finished up with “Honey.” Following a standing ovation, they came back to the stage and played “Tree To Grow” for their encore.
There were some very funny moments in the show, bits of wry writ. There was a bit about putting lyrics from “Fallin'” on their merchandise, and Brian suggested they put it on sweatpants, “on the butt.” It was a perfectly silly, goofy moment.
I’d never seen Lindsay Lou before, but I knew of her, and I was very impressed by her set. Lindsay writes and plays her own compositions, and a few made it into the set, but also covered a number of songwriters — Jerry Garcia’s “Gomorrah” John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” the old folk standard “Waggoner’s Lad” (which she said she learned from the late, great Doc Watson), and she closed with Nate Erlewine’s “The River Jordan.” She’s a really impressive vocalist; as I noted above, her a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace” had the audience completely rapt. Lindsay has a new album coming out in September, with the first single coming out next month, and I can’t wait to hear it.
Lindsay Lou was a perfect fit as an opener for the Lone Bellow, who also emphasize vocals. They were similar enough that the audience loved her, but she added something a little different to the evening’s mix, making for a well-balanced evening.