By: Derek Jung
Seeing The Lone Bellow has been something of a religious experience for me. The first time that I saw them live was with my wife at MusicNOW Festival in Memorial Hall, a beautiful turn of the century theater in downtown Cincinnati. The combined voices of the three main members, Zach, Kanene, and Brian, echoed throughout the chamber and repeatedly gave me chills. It was a powerful, emotional experience and one that immediately made me a big fan of the group. Fast forward 8 months and the band returned to the more modest 20th Century Theater across town. I was worried that the grandiose environment of Memorial Hall wouldn't translate to a smaller, more quaint room with poorer sound.
My fears were initially realized with the opener, Anderson East. The band has been on the rise as of late, and they've been helped a lot by airtime on public radio stations like WNKU here in town. I was very disappointed to hear that when the band put any force behind their sound, it easily overpowered the sound system, causing his voice, usually very soulful, to sound distorted and muffled. For a band like Anderson East, where the vocals are supposed to be the highlight of the act, it was bad news. Only when they brought things down a notch, usually for the slower songs, did his voice really shine like it should. And boy, is this guy a special kind of talent. Along with a good selection of songs from his debut album Delilah, the band performed two great covers, one of the Otis Redding classic "Knock On Wood" and Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey". Definitely check out Anderson East if you get the chance. I love the trend of neo-soul bands right now (St. Paul & The Broken Bones is another that comes to mind here). I have a feeling we're going to be hearing a lot from them in the future.
With the vocal issues of Anderson East, I was really worried that the problem would carry over in The Lone Bellow's set, and it did for a while. You couldn't hear Zach much at all for the first 2-3 songs and the vocal harmonies blended almost completely with the other instruments. Eventually it started getting better, and soon the sound leveled off to being able to hear the vocals fine, but still not being able to quite understand what they were singing. Now, I know many of the lyrics, so that wasn't a huge issue for me, but I can imagine it being disappointing for a newcomer.
Despite the sound, the energy in the theater was electric. Zach's preacher-like antics on stage, arms raised and howling voice, brought all eyes on him. It amazes me how great the three sound together, but boy oh boy do they each individually have great voices. While Zach leads a majority of the songs, Kanene and Brian sing their fair share as well. They did a few "unplugged" songs huddled around a single microphone, which is a gamble if the crowd doesn't cooperate, but thankfully the crowd was engaged enough to quiet down and the result was pretty great. The highlight of these songs was definitely Brian singing "Watch Over Us", which turned into a singalong towards the end.
The most recent Lone Bellow album, Then Came The Morning, was produced by Aaron Dessner of The National, who are originally from Cincinnati. I had the pleasure of meeting the Dessner twins' dad at MusicNOW Festival, and I noticed that I was standing directly behind them and a group of their friends at 20th Century Theater. During the show, Kanene dedicated a new song to one of the women from that group, who I later discovered is battling brain cancer. It was a touching moment and a beautiful stripped back acoustic song that left some of us close by with tears in our eyes. People came up and hugged her husband during the next few songs. The band later thanked the Dessners for all that they've done for them. I was hoping for an appearance by Aaron, considering The National are on a break, but had no such luck.
The finale of the night was a great rendition of "Purple Rain" featuring Anderson East and the first opener, Hugh Masterson. The next time The Lone Bellow are in town, I hope they play a theater that compliments their sound a little better, but for what we got, I went home satisfied.
Check out a full concert video from 2013 of The Lone Bellow in Boston.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: