It may have been icy on the streets of Lerwick, but the atmosphere was anything but in Mareel on Thursday evening.
A sold-out audience descended upon the auditorium to enjoy a night of top quality music, courtesy of local promoter Neil Riddell.
Starting the night was the duo of Megan Nisbet and Lauren Johnson – otherwise known as Megan and Lauren. The pair treated the crowd to a combination of original and cover songs which showcased their great individual vocals, and also their finely crafted harmonies.
They obviously have great affection for Bruce Springsteen as they covered his hits Dancing in the Dark and I’m On Fire – both versions sounding different to the originals yet familiar.
If “The Boss” was looking for a folkier version of his E-Street Band, I think he’s found it with this pair. The highlight of their set, however, was the original track Courage – a very uplifting track that displayed their great potential for original songwriting.
Later in the set they were joined by Peter Kay, who shone especially with his fantastic guitar work during their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way. A well-liked Shetland act with a big future in the Shetland folk scene.
Next up was the immense talent that is Rob Heron. You may have seen him last year with his band Rob Heron and The Teapad Orchestra, but in this instance he was flying solo.
Heron kicked off the night with the song Something Blue – which happens to be the title track for his band’s upcoming album. Being a fan of his band, it was hard to imagine what his songs would sound like without them but playing solo makes his voice sound as powerful as his absent band.
He dedicated the next song – Hangover Blues – “for all of us next Wednesday afternoon”, referring to the inevitable feeling lots of Shetlanders will endure the day after Up-Helly-A’.
While his set was a showcase of his original music, he still managed to fit in a few cover songs including Things Have Gone To Pieces’ – a song he says is his favourite ever by his biggest vocal influence George Jones. His rapport with the crowd was top notch. A surprisingly haunting set overall.
Finishing off the night were Brooklyn-based group The Lone Bellow. This gig was the first date of their UK and European tour.
As soon as they kicked into their first song, I Let You Go, it was evident that the audience in the Mareel auditorium was about to watch something quite special. The band, whose 2015 album Then Came The Morning debuted at number 44 in the USA album charts, were instantly given a rapturous applause and by the time they finished their second song If You Don’t Love Me, it was incredibly hard for this reviewer and the entire audience to stay in the seats.
Once Heaven Don’t Call Me Home started, just taking a quick look around the room you could see literally everybody shaking left to right in their seats. This is a band whose music is filled with incredible power and energy. I can only imagine the dilemma the promoters had in deciding whether this should’ve been a seated or standing gig.
The one main thing that stood out about the whole set was the incredible three-piece harmonies on display by frontman Zach Williams, lead guitarist Brian Elmquist and multi-instrumentalist Kanene Pipkin. It was undoubtedly one of the best vocal performances you could ever see live.
Later on in the set, the drummer and bass player left the stage so the three could play some more intimate songs in a small circle. This part of the set saw all three display their individual vocal talents as opposed to the harmonies we had been seeing so far.
It was made more impacting by the fine lighting work from the Mareel technicians, who with their use of lights made this part all the more intimate by making the auditorium feel much smaller than it actually is.
After that part was done, the backing musicians re-joined the stage to again resume their rockier numbers with Zach stating that ‘it got a little heavy there for a minute’, referring to the intimate nature.
Seeing The Lone Bellow live was truly something special. They are easily one of the tightest and best sounding bands that has ever come up to Shetland to grace the Mareel stage.
“We must come back” frontman Williams said before the end of the set, with Pipkin adding “we have to come back and help burn the boat”, showing that that they are fully aware of our yearly tradition of galley burning.
The set ended with the title track from their 2015 album Then Came The Night which featured Williams taking on a role of a vocal conductor by getting the entire audience to sing along to his command, who were only too happy to oblige. “Thank you Shelby Islands” he said in a humorous mix-up.
As the band left the stage, the 300 capacity audience in the auditorium gave them a deserved standing ovation deservedly so. Congratulations again to Neil Riddell and Ragged Wood for bringing up yet another top-quality band.