The thesaurus entry for Bell X1 – if one were to exist- would be a calamity of synonyms that ultimately mean ‘fun’.
It makes this country’s appreciation of them – or lack thereof – unbelievably frustrating. They’re not U2 (thank God) nor are they The Coronas (again, thank God). The balance struck is one of style and substance, and a balance that has meant their output remains consistent.
Then why the blatant lack of respect?
At their recent Olympia Theatre show, people talk throughout the show – loudly – to the point that Paul Noonan has to plead with them to be quiet for Take Your Sweet Time – a gem of a song on their new album ‘Arms’ that demands a quiet audience. They oblige – but the point is he shouldn’t have had to ask in the first place.
The set leans heavily on new material – a bad call given the crowd, as they frequently zone out. But the way they refashion the songs for a live setting deserves complete and utter attention – I Go Where You Go is visually arresting and becomes a jovial brassy track that any movie producer would scramble to secure for their indie rom-com soundtracks. The harmonies are also surprisingly smooth,
All of the new material suits a venue like the Olympia. Slow jam The Upswing is introduced with Paul Noonan wanting to convey a deep message – by doing his most mediocre Barry White impression. Regardless, it oozes romance and sexual energy à la Bell X1 – a little flirty, a little kooky and certainly unconventional.
Older material still feels remarkably fresh, and that’s probably down to how they perform it as it is to what they perform. Flame sees a hiccup at the end where no band member is sure when to end the final chorus – it’s hilarious as opposed to awkward, and the lads’ laughter is contagious.
When The Great Defector is rolled out, however, the performance rings slightly more hollow. It’s stiff and a little weary – it doesn’t blight the night overall though.
They perform a self-described “extremely difficult” Bowie cover in Ashes To Ashes, making it all the more clear that they are most comfortable in this new, slightly more polished sound favouring synths and keys. It’s when Noonan himself looks strongest as a performer – enigmatic, fluid, a strike of yellow light flooding his skin.
Golden oldie Alphabet Soup warrants enthusiasm that should have been maintained throughout the evening, but alas, wasn’t. It’s a nice penultimate finisher, with The End Is Nigh closing proceedings.
Bell X1 are frighteningly good – as songwriters, as performers, as artists. It’s dismaying to witness people continuing to buy tickets to their shows to hear one song (Rocky Took A Lover, Flame – take your pick). A band as long in the tooth as themselves should not have to jump through hoops at their own headline show. They’ve earned their right to be on stage. They’ve earned their right to an attentive crowd. They’re too long in the tooth – and too good at what they do – to settle for anything less.