I’ll be the first to confess that I have eclectic musical tastes. (A common feature is that I almost exclusively like singer-songwriters, though.) So, standard disclaimers apply. Lately, though, I’ve been listening to Bell X1 a lot, though, and I wanted to share.
Bell X1 is a band from Dublin, Ireland. They popped up on my radar last Fall, a few months after we returned to the states. I don’t even remember how I first came across them. But I liked the bit that I heard, and their Wikipedia page claimed they were the second most popular Irish band in Ireland after U2, which seemed like an interesting (if impossible to measure or verify) factoid. So, I bought their double live album, Field Recordings, released in 2012.
I played it often and continued to like it. Months later, I found myself on the band’s website just after they’d announced their 2014 US Tour. One of the tour dates was to bring them to Maryland, where my in-laws live. So, I hatched the scheme of making a weekend of the concert, leaving the kids with their grandparents, and I bought a pair of tickets.
Shortly after buying the tickets, I bought their latest studio album, Chop Chop. I listened to it several times, but it didn’t really click for me. I mentioned to a friend in Ireland that we were going to see them, and he shrugged (virtually) but said they were probably good live.
“Good live” was a dramatic understatement, though. They were fantastic live, particularly in an intimate venue. The musicianship, as the band members moved effortlessly from instrument to instrument was astounding, and, though they have a clear lead singer, they were all great vocalists, too. The lyrics were a bit easier to understand live, too, and I was moved by them. Not only that, but they played several songs from Chop Chop, and it really made those songs come alive for me.
My new favorite from Chop Chop is probably “Feint Praise”. I like the overall message of the song, about the bankruptcy of conflict avoidance, and I love the description that faint praise has a “bitter aftertaste, like rust.” But I also just love the almost-non-sequiter in the bridge, because it’s just dripping with Irishness: “You must never squeeze the teabag // Leave it alone // What did it ever do to you?”
But the last song on Chop Chop has also really grown on me since the concert. It’s an apocalyptic song called “The End is Nigh”, but it’s less about the end itself than about the people we’d choose to be with in the darkest of times. We saw Bell X1 on September 12, and the band had played in New York City the night before. They mentioned that they didn’t play “The End is Nigh” though, because it seemed too “close to the bone” for that day. Some lyrical goodness from that one: “And flailing like a landed fish // Trying to get back to before his day went awry.” I find that image both funny and deeply resonant.
But this post was actually prompted by the video below, which the band tweeted today. It’s from that September 11 show in New York City. They played the same song in Annapolis the next night as their first encore. I don’t think it gives you a great feel for the band’s music, because they’re really a “Pop/Rock Combo” (their description, in another song) that mostly plays original music, and this is an acoustic cover. But it gives you a feel for their incredible musical talent, even if the live audio recording leaves a bit to be desired. It’s a song called “She’s a Mystery to Me” written by Bono and The Edge for Roy Orbison, who popularized it.
This afternoon, I also learned that the lead singer of Bell X1, Paul Noonan (on the right in the video), has a computer engineering degree from Trinity College Dublin. So, I guess that by itself explains just about everything about my newfound love for a random band from Dublin.