Bell X1 at (Le) Poisson Rouge

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How its New York: Bell X1 played Wednesday the 16th at (Le) Poisson Rouge, a Bleecker Street film, music, dance, theater, and fine art venue that opened in 2008 and quickly rose to the top of New York’s venues with eclectic programming and quality production values. Other Voices NYC played there Oct. 27 and 28 (Bell X1 were part of it). Favourite Sons opened.

How its Irish: Bell X1 formed in 1999 in County Kildare after original front man Damien Rice left to lead a successful solo career. They have released five albums.

Rachael Gilkey falls prey to Bell X1’s Bloodless Coup at (Le) Poisson Rouge, remembering why she once used to like them so much– and also (but only during the encore) why she went off them a bit.

I first came across Bell X1 in Galway after the very charming Music in Mouth (2003) was released, and a particular song captured perfectly a bittersweet moment of my life. I followed their next release, Flock, the first album to take them Stateside, and saw them once in New York before losing interest as the band’s sound morphed slightly from lush melodies and clever lyrics to incorporate a more prevalent electro-beat influence that, to me, often felt out of place. But with the release of their latest album, Bloodless Coup participation in the stellar line up of the recent Other Voices evening and a short concert on NPR’s Mountain Stage, I thought it might be time to return to what was once a favorite when they played (Le) Poisson Rouge last week.

Billboard has named Bell X1 the second biggest rock band in Ireland next to U2, based on live performances, and radio airplay notches them up there with the rock giants as well. This should be somewhat surprising to an American audience still warming up to the indie pop outfit, although they continue to gain ground with each new foray on American soil. Now five albums in and with multiple trips to New York, they have a dedicated following returning to venues like (Le) Poisson Rouge, but have not cracked the larger market.

(Le) Poisson Rouge is a gem of a venue in New York, and its eclectic programming and versatile performance space has been home to a variety of artists since it opened in 2008. Bell X1 and opening band Favourite Sons played in the round, fully encircled by the audience and facing in towards each other – a set up that prompted many jokes and offered a more intimate approach to a concert performance, but also made it easy for me to ignore most of the band
aside from singer Paul Noonan and lead guitarist David Geraghty.

Instead of playing tracks solely off their new album, as many touring bands do, Bell X1’s set list showcased some of the best tracks from the last four albums, leaning heavily toward the ballad writing. As a performer, Noonan is charmingly quirky, engaging the audience in a bit of banter after the first two songs were played.

The set started out very strong, with opening songs “Anna Lena,” “Bad Skin Day,” and “Velcro” (which reminds me of Bruce Springsteen, if “Born to Run” had been written with a drum kit and electronic keyboard instead of piano). The lighting during these songs fit the often wistful or yearning tone, with a red glow cutting through the soft purple dark of the room and lighting each musician from below. Bloodless Coup track “Nightwatchman” provided a more sombre moment before switching gears toward the funkier, Talking Heads-ish “4-Minute Mile,” after which Noonan grinned, “That was our mantra song.” Presumably he refers to the chorus, which repeats, “But that’s okay / Yeah, that’s okay most of the time.” Not terribly complex (indeed, almost laughable), but mantras are probably easier to follow that way. This lighter, more upbeat tempo characterized much of the remainder of the evening.

Later in the set, a lone track from Music in Mouth, “I’ll See Your Heart and Raise You Mine,” delighted me to no end. In fact, it really wasn’t until the encore that I remembered why I had stopped listening to the more recent output from Bell X1. The encore provided two starkly different versions of the band’s sound, beginning with the brilliant “Rocky Took A Lover,” where an imagined conversation between a man and his paramour, both down and out on the streets in Dublin, offers a sweet refrain of hope and references Oscar Wilde. It was the final track, “Sugar High,” that left me feeling blasé. Hearing it in the encore was the first I had heard it, but it clearly was not the best song on the new album by a long shot. It seemed like a curious choice, except “Sugar High” is extremely topical, chastising Ireland’s leaders for their negligence in taking care of the country’s economy:

“Let’s build all this shit, no one’s ever gonna buy / When we come ’round we’ll blame the sugar high.”


My sugar high also ended at this time. But for the last song, it may have not ended so soon.

———-

Set list from November 16, 2011
“Anna Lena”
“Bad Skin Day”
“Velcro”
“Night Watchmen”
“My First Born for a Song”
“4-Minute Mile”
“Built to Last”
“How Your Heart is Wired”
“Haloumi”
“The Great Defector”
“Flame”
“I’ll See Your Heart and I’ll Raise You Mine”
Encore – “Rocky Took a Lover”
Encore – “Sugar High”

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Copyright 2011 New York Irish Arts