For the second year in a row, my friends and I gathered to celebrate the birthday of one of our own with one of my favorite traditions: a live performance by the incredible powerhouses that make up The Lone Bellow.
The very first time we saw them perform, after I’d chanced upon them on Spotify and just had to share their breakout hit “You Never Need Nobody” with my nearest and dearest, was back in 2013 at the intimately small music venue DC9. We were close enough to touch them, close enough that we could feel every note belted out by Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin, and Brian Elmquist vibrate deep within us. I was lucky enough to score a picture with Zach and Kanene, and we all left that show with wide, sappy smiles on our faces. Their first album was the soundtrack of that holiday season; we played our favorite songs on repeat when our college friends came to visit for New Years Eve.
Two years later, they were back at The Hamilton just in time for Sarah’s birthday. And what better way to celebrate your birthday than with what you know will be a spectacular show? Of course we went. Of course it was amazing.
When we found out that they’d be playing this week at the 9:30 Club, again for Sarah’s birthday, it was like they knew our story and came back just for us. We immediately made a plan to go.
The show started out strong, obviously, but things got really incredible when the backing bandmates left the stage and Zach, Kanene, and Brian gathered around one microphone with just their guitars. A technical issue with a guitar and a “fuck it, we’re doing this a capella” moment from Brian later, they got the entire crowd humming along to “Watch Over Us.” For the entire duration of the song. It was a perfect moment. People (myself included) were in tears.
The greatest part of the night, however, was when Zach pulled a couple onstage so the guy could propose to his girlfriend. The crowd screamed in delight — And the screams got even louder when the band then proceeded to cover Mariah Carey‘s “Always Be My Baby.” At this point, people all around were incredulous. How could the concert possibly get any better?
We all know the answer to that could only be MORE 90s R&B covers. Witness The Lone Bellow perform K-Ci & JoJo‘s “All My Life” and Boyz II Men‘s “I’ll Make Love to You” in my shaky-from-laugh/crying videos below.
They closed out the show with their openers, Escondido, covering “I Shall Be Released.” If you’ve seen Big Easy Express (and if you haven’t, you should), we left that performance with the same high you get from watching Edward Sharpe, Mumford & Sons, and Old Crow Medicine Show singing “This Train is Bound for Glory” at the end of the movie. It’s a nearly indescribable, completely enveloping feeling of joy and wonder at the transformational power of music. We made our way home on a cloud — I’m still feeling it, two days later.
It’s been an awesome experience to watch a band make it so far in their career so quickly. Kanene, who grew up in Virginia, intro-ed one song with the note that she saw her first show at the 9:30 Club when she was 16 years old. She explained how special it was to be performing on that very same stage years later. We all felt that excitement and, more importantly, that gratitude from them in every performance that night. There’s nothing sweeter than a band that’s so humble they freak out when the crowd hums along to their music.
As one of my friends noted, The Lone Bellow’s albums are incredible, but they are so much better live than they ever will be in recordings. Having created such spectacular memories from all the times we’ve seen them perform — and knowing that every performance to come will be equally memorable — I’m OK with only getting to experience that feeling once a year.
The 9:30 Club is celebrating their 35th anniversary this year, and will be featured in a new PBS music variety show called “Live at 9:30.” Stay tuned for more news on the show’s premiere date and which episode will feature the Lone Bellow’s concert, but in the mean time you can watch the preview, here.