James Vincent McMorrow and Bell X1 @ Bowery Ballroom, 6/7/11

Back in Ireland, Bell X1 have the reputation of being the second biggest band in the land, beaten out only by a little group called U2. Here in America, they still manage to comfortably pack Bowery Ballroom two nights in a row, with not an insignificant amount of the audience members coming out to both shows.
Opening for the group was James Vincent McMorrow, another Irish import. Armed with only an acoustic guitar, he faced an audience that whose members initially busied themselves chatting away and getting to the venue’s bars before the crowd became too dense. All of that changed once McMorrow sang. His effortless falsetto soon filled the space, and he didn’t need any fancy tricks like lighting or backdrops in order to command attention.

McMorrow pieced together each instrumental part to make his lush, atmospheric debut Early in the Morning, so his live performance found him rebuilding each song without accompaniment. Fortunately his art is the sort that celebrates simplicity, from the rural landscapes that populate his lyrics to the flexibility of a setlist handwritten in a notebook. McMorrow’s melodic sound and haunting voice often draw comparisons to Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, but by the time he left the stage, everyone knew the name of the man behind the music. Normally this would be the point when audience members shoved forward to get even closer to the stage, but there was a surprising amount of civility at this show. When Bell X1 took the stage, they were greeted with plenty of cheers, but the enthusiasm seemed to be genuinely for the music. The band delivered a somewhat different setlist to appease the fans who were coming out for the second night in a row, and each song was met with recognition even as the selections spanned four albums (with only their debut unrepresented). Paul Noonan is an engaging frontman gifted with self-effacing charm and banter (Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” was quoted at one point). Bassist/rocker of a leopard print guitar strap Dominic Philips and multi-instrumentalist/sometimes lead singer/probably secret ninja David Geraghty round out the original lineup, and despite playing as a group for so long, the guys still exchanged excited glances and smiles at different points throughout the night. With Marc Aubele and Rory Doyle taking over guitar, keyboard, and drum duties live, Noonan’s hands are freed either to take on extra guitar or drums or to dance in his own endearing way (which he compared to watching an uncle dance at a wedding). As Noonan’s own lyrics states, Bell X1 will likely “never be proper famous,” but they clearly enjoy what they do and challenge themselves all the same. The energy Tuesday night beat out that of Monday by far, and each song seemed to have its own highlights. “4 Minute Mile” featured some impressive bass work from Geraghty, while singles like “Rocky Took a Lover” and “Eve, the Apple of My Eye” triggered epic singalongs. The encore included just the core band members playing a subdued version of “Just Like Mr. Benn,” which they had never played in NYC before. Rounding out the night was “Sugar High,” a fun tune culminating in a spinning disco ball overhead and a drum duel that ought to be required at any gig. Bell X1 setlist: Hey Anna Lena Next to You Velcro The Ribs of a Broken Umbrella Safer Than Love Rocky Took a Lover 4 Minute Mile Eve, The Apple of My Eye Built to Last Flame The Great Defector Tongue ________ Just Like Mr. Benn Nightwatchmen Sugar High

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About Casey Hicks

Casey Hicks toils her daylight hours away in an office high above Manhattan in order to afford nights of passionately scribbling. The first song she remembers ever hearing is "Lola" by the Kinks. She thinks this explains a lot.
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