Bell X1 - Manchester, The Deaf Institute
Touring extensively on the back of their most recent effort, 'Bloodless Coup', Bell X1 have certainly had time to refine their live set with the new material, and it shows. Their fairly dedicated following only had the chance to see them at four dates in the UK on this tour, and this was shown by the relatively packed venue tonight, where the crowd was a pleasant mix of young and older, with many Irish fans turning up to see their native Bell X1, who are apparently the band with the second most airplay in Ireland, behind U2.
First though, we have the support act: Jape. Usually playing with a full band, tonight we were graced only with the presence of Richie Egan, who did more than enough to entertain the crowd before the headliners took to the stage. Not afraid to interact with the fans, between nearly every song the crowd enjoys some light-hearted banter with him. His music was done very much with the aid of a laptop, which he accompanied on guitar and a keyboard, but the sound still filled the room. The music itself consists for the most part of toe-tapping electronic pop songs such as 'Graveyard' and 'I was a man', the latter of which was a standout, Egan really throwing himself into the guitar playing and his vocals. These kinds of tunes are interspersed with the odd ballad: 'Floating' starts off much this way before building up a beat and reaching its crescendo, and closer 'Phil Lynott' is done basically with only the guitar accompaniment. The latter is a light melody about feeling the ghost of Phil Lynott at a Mastodon gig when there was an eclipse, and is a nice way to finish the set, even when an ill-fated attempt to get a sing-a-long going mostly fails, much to everybody's (including Egan's) amusement. Very entertaining, and I can't help but wonder how much better it would have been had the whole band been present.
Around half an hour later, the lights dim and Bell X1 arrive on stage and begin the opening bars of the fantastic 'Hey Anna Lena'. The performance that results is a near perfect replica of the sound of the recording, and within thirty seconds it is evident that the sound resonates incredibly within the acoustics of the room. Paul Noonan's vocals are clear as a bell and carry really well, every word he sings can be made out. His performance throughout the set, in particular, is a highlight. He moves and dances like a happy Ian Curtis and sounds like David Byrne at times. When he strains his voice, in particular, he sounds very much like him. Where he doesn't, however, is his fragile falsetto which finds home on tracks like 'Hey Anna Lena' and 'Eve, the apple of my eye' (which garnered an emotional performance tonight), it is clear that he is not only an accomplished singer but an accomplished frontman. He is the only one that talks to the crowd, making jokes and talking to those who shout requests. At one point, he announces that they are going to play a song for a girl that missed the gig because she was poorly, prompting from a man in the crowd the response: "I've got athlete's foot, but I'm still here!", much to everyone's amusement and the brief delay of the song due to Noonan's laughter. The song, by the way, was 'How your heart is wired', and was a powerful performance once the laughter subsided.
The remaining members of Bell X1, though, are not to go uncelebrated. Each one brings something to the table, whether it be the drummer that never misses a beat, the keyboard player who weaves the electronic sound of the new material expertly, or David Geraghty, who during the course of the set plays (3 different) guitars, including electric and acoustic, a bass, keyboards and takes lead vocals on 'Built to last'. Each of them show obvious talent, and most of them provide backing vocals at some stage or another, and again, the harmonising and weaving of the different vocals works incredibly well. There might have been the occasional dull moment or two during the gig (Bad Skin Day, for instance) but the band really transcend themselves elsewhere, working as fully functioning unit, each playing their part, gelling wonderfully as a whole. Examples of this could be seen during '4 minute mile', Geraghty treated the bass guitar like it was lead, Noonan even took to his own mini-drum-kit towards the end, and the performance is relentless, taken to a new level. I glossed over '4 minute mile' on the record, but it was one of the best songs of the night live. The same can be said for fan-favourite, the anthemic 'Flame', which closes the main set and is rapturously received by the crowd. That one really did sound like Talking Heads, but it might have been the acoustics.
Other highlights of the night were single 'Velcro', the inspired 'Next to you', 'The great defector', the wonderful 'Rocky took a lover', and I could go on. My only real criticism is that the final song of the night, new single 'Sugar high', didn't end the show on such high quality as was achieved in 'Flame' and '4 minute mile', and there were occasional moments of dullness throughout, but they didn't come around very often. Even with those minor faults, this was a fantastic set from a band clearly on top of their game, from a band clearly comprised of experienced, talented musicians: I look forward to seeing them again.