The Lone Bellow in Portsmouth

Matthew Shelter on March 10, 2014

The Lone Bellow

The Music Hall

Portsmouth, NH

February 27

I never got to see the Everly Brothers or Gram Parsons or The Band perform live, but I have seen The Lone Bellow. While the Brooklyn-based trio would be the first to admit they’re not at the same level as those classic artists from rock’s past, they’ve been making a name for themselves over the last year mining the same lode of musical riches found where country, folk, rock and gospel meet. At the 900-seat Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH, The Lone Bellow put on an energetic, infectious live show – equal parts hoedown, folk recital and tent-show revival.

The band has been touring essentially non-stop since the release of their eponymous debut in January 2013. “We’ve been on a long, incredible road trip across America,” lead singer and songwriter Zach Williams said. The dozen songs on the album have been polished to a deep, umber glow over that time, but have lost none of their immediacy.

The band eases into their show with “I Let You Go,” a relatively soft-spoken number that showcases the delicate vocal interplay between Williams and bandmates Brian Elmquist and Kanene Pipkin. It doesn’t take long, though, for them to gallop into the kind midtempo and upbeat numbers that are their bread and butter: “You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional,” “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To” and “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold.”

On stage, the three core members of the band are backed by Jason Pipkin (Kanene’s husband) on bass and Brian Griffin on drums. The group’s back story has been widely reported: how Williams began writing songs several years ago as a form of emotional therapy after his wife was gravely injured in a horseback-riding accident, then reunited with his old friend Elmquist in 2010 at a Brooklyn diner and recruited Pipkin, a friend-of-a-friend, to join them. As Williams has said, “Three songs in I realized I should quit what I’m doing and just make music with these people.”

The 31-year-old Williams comes across as the living breathing heart of the band, at once charismatic and utterly down-to-earth. He roams the stage, steps down onto the floor of the auditorium and exhorts the crowd with the wide-eyed intensity of an evangelical preacher. It’s not unusual for him to end a show drenched in sweat, his hair akimbo. This being New Hampshire in mid-winter, he was spared the sweat-soaked outfit, although his hair could have used a combing by the time the encores were through.

Williams said the band has begun working on a second album, and they sprinkled a few new songs into the mix, including “Georgia Will,” a rollicking rave-up, and “Hickory to Telluride,” an ode to the long-running Colorado music festival.

At one point in the show, Williams, Elmquist and Pipkin stepped from the microphones and delivered acapella versions of “Watch Over Us” and “Two Sides of Lonely,” taking advantage of the gorgeous, opera house-like acoustics of the 135-year-old Music Hall. They also featured a pair of well-chosen covers – John Prine’s classic “Angel From Montgomery” and Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away” – before closing out the night with the gospel-inspired “Teach Me to Know.”

The Lone Bellow heads overseas for a month of shows in the U.K., Spain and Germany before returning in the spring to hit the U.S. festival circuit.