i love the color of it all

02Oct09
Here’s a first in my quote-unquote writing career: I wrote most of this post on a cocktail napkin with a pen I borrowed from the bartender because I decided to leave all but my ID and my phone at home last night. I’d been on the fence all week about going to see Bell x1 at 3rd & Lindsley, but after receiving a second opinion from Libby and an encouraging, “Plus, they’re v. attractive,” I left the cozy confines of my reading chair and shuffled to the 10:00 show, not knowing entirely what to expect.

I was familiar with the Irish band, in the sense that I’d heard a few of their songs in the past, and thanks to Lightning 100, I could sing along to their catchy single, “The Great Defector”. But the music that came out of those five guys from that tiny stage was nothing like I was prepared to hear. Based on the poppy beat and quirky lyrics of “The Great Defector”, I was expecting something like the Talking Heads to surround me with snyth and funk. What I got sounded more like the Great Lake Swimmers, with an ethereal, intangible sound. Tony Dekker’s voice might be a heavy Canadian fog slowly covering the ground, but Paul Noonan’s quiet Irish lilt was like scythed hay in late summer, dripping in golds and oranges and reds.

Their performance was a perfect harmonization of four different voices and instruments as varied as a child’s Casio keyboard, cowbells, a space-ship-rock-‘n’-roll type guitar, a kazoo, a harmonica, a tiny tambourine, and as many as four kinds of guitars occasionally playing all at once. And though their studio albums include that harbinger of musical joy, the banjo, they never did bring it out last night. Bell x1 is kind of a musical hybrid: something along the lines of Radiohead meets Great Lake Swimmers meets Glen Hansard. They’re uptempo and raucous, while still emanating something subdued and melancholy. Paul Noonan’s occasional falsetto shook me to bones. At other times, his whisky-warm voice drowned the tiny bar in sultriness.

Aside from their undeniably cool sound, Bell x1 put on a really fun and engaging performance. I’m fairly certain Paul Noonan was reasonably drunk when they took the stage, but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that five Irish gentlemen would down shots of whisky at an alarming rate and still manage to remain standing. And playing their instruments coherently. They closed out one of their songs with a brief cover of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel”, but made it all their own, so much so that for a minute, I couldn’t assign the lyrics to any song I’d ever heard, even though I was clearly singing along. They told kitschy little anecdotes about enjoying Nashville’s Pancake Pantry and being stunned by the disclaimers on Lays Light Potato Chips, warning of possible anal leakage. Of Bell x1’s four albums, only two are available in the US, but Paul Noonan announced that we should “feel free to steal our records from the internet. It’s all about spreading and sharing the music.”

The highlight of the set came with “Eve the Apple of My Eye”, a slow, tender song oozing with sensuality and some Hold Steady-esque religious grappling. Later, Noonan introduced the song “Amelia” by pointing out that he and Earhart’s co-pilot, Fred Noonan, share the same surname. “I once did a geneology and it turns out that maybe, it’s unlikely, but maybe Fred’s my great-great-grandad or something,” he said with a grin. The song itself was a tinkling little story about what might have happened in the Electra when Noonan and Earhart realized they were going down. I wonder did they kick back when they knew the game was up? Or maybe they went on to grow oranges and pears/on their own island, Amelia and Fred.

At the end of the set, Noonan asked if we wanted them to leave the stage before returning for an encore, but told us it was his preference not to go. “It seems like a long walk to the back of the room just to come back up here a minute later.” On the suggestion of some tipsy ned in the front, they ended the night with “One Stringed Harp”, which in turn faded into a cover of The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize?” and with that, I ducked out into the breezy Nashville night, happy and pleasantly surprised by the music I’d found inside.

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