The Lone Bellow + Tommy, St Pancras Old Church, London, 23rd January 2020

The charming and atmospheric St Pancras Old Church, dating back to the Norman era,  was a perfect setting for an intimate set by The Lone Bellow, the second of two sold out shows. Performing as a trio, rather than the augmented line up seen on earlier tours, the format for their set was mainly acoustic and unplugged, with amplification provided by a single microphone, ‘bluegrass style’, around which the band formed a tight grouping, with the exception of opening song ‘Wonder’ and set closer ‘May you be Well‘, which featured Brian Elmquist on piano.

The band, based in Brooklyn, but with southern roots evidenced in their powerful, gospel tinged repertoire, are a force of nature experienced live, with memorable songs delivered with stunning and beautiful harmonies, driven by the high energy vocal delivery of Zach Williams,  tonight in an electric blue suit, with lead vocal duties shared with the equally potent Kanene Pipkin. Instrumentation combined one or two acoustic guitars, played by Williams and Elmquist, with Pipkin on steel resonator tenor guitar, sometimes switching to mandolin, and augmented on several up tempo songs by stomp board percussion from Elmquist.

The absence of the bigger band line up did nothing to detract from the power of their set, instead giving an even greater emphasis to the vocal harmonies which are the trade mark of their live shows, and the three albums released to date. Their hour and a half set featured songs from all three, and previewed three new songs, ‘Good Times‘, ‘Count on me‘ and ‘Wash it Clean‘ from their forthcoming album ‘Half Moon Light‘, released next month , and also featured a cover of ‘Pink Rabbits‘, written by the producer  of the new album, Aaron Dessner of The National.

Stand out songs, from an impressive set throughout, included ‘You don’t love me like you used to ‘, featuring those great harmonies, a single guitar and hand claps, and a storming performance of ‘Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold‘, with sing along accompaniment from the enthusiastic crowd,  clearly familiar with their repertoire.  A very personal show was enhanced by a close rapport between the band and audience throughout, with plenty of good natured banter  (“the hardest part” said Williams), including back chat from a vocal Welsh contingent , declared by Williams to be “like Georgia“, though Elmquist wasn’t so sure!

The set closed in suitably intimate style, with the last two songs from their three song encore performed without amplification, stepping down from the stage, into the body of the audience, where ‘Tree to Grow‘ and the strong gospel feel of their song ‘Watch over Us‘ formed an emotional end to a very special show.

In a nice touch Williams and Pipkin were at the church door for a chat with their fans after the show, who will have left looking forward to hearing the new album next month, and to the band’s next visit to the UK in May, when they play gigs in Manchester and London.

Capable support was provided by a short set from Tommy, solo on electric guitar and piano, his introspective songs of love and loss delivered with fine vocals, at times reminiscent of Pat Kane.

Author: David Jarman

Long time fan of Americana genre, from early days of Ry Cooder, through to today's thriving scene. Regular visitor to USA ( Nashville/Austin/Memphis/LA ) live music junkie, I play guitar, mandolin, harmonica, plus vocals, run monthly jam session in Broadstairs

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