Bell X1 At The Olympia Theatre – Review
Emerging at the turn of the millennium as part of an Irish musical landscape which revolved around The Frames and ex-bandmate Damien Rice, Bell X1 have shared their peers knack for longevity to become one of Ireland’s most popular and reliable bands. Having reached a commercial high point in the mid-00’s with excellent releases such as Music In Mouth and Flock, the band were a big enough draw to headline packed shows at the RDS Arena, the Point Depot and Malahide Castle. Having since undergone a major stylistic change over the last number of years, shunning the Radiohead-tinged alt rock for a more light-hearted Talking Heads influenced indie-pop sound, they have garnered a strong cult following with the release of increasingly experimental albums. Back on the Olympia stage for the first time in years, the ease with which these two shows sold out months in advance is a testament to the loyalty of their fanbase.
Tonight’s set leans heavily on latest release ‘Arms’, an ambitious experimental record full of polyrhythms, loops and samples which pushes further away from the edgy rock with which the band made their name. This stylistic change however, has resulted in a live show that at times, lacks the intensity of old, and there are many moments tonight where you long for the rockier songs to make a return. When done right, the pop moments are terrific. Both ‘Velcro’ and ‘The Great Defector’ meld idiosyncratic lyrics with irresistible pop hooks while, despite suffering from muddled sound tonight, ‘The Ribs Of A Broken Umbrella’ packs a real melodic punch. Last year’s comeback single ‘The Upswing’ proves they can still produce some of the old magic, and Paul Noonan’s way with a lyrical hook remains undiminished as he croons “one day, we’ll meet trouble halfway” over a gently laid back bass groove, while on ‘Bring Me A Fire King’ he bemoans modern celebrity culture with “so many chancers, it’s hard to know who the real stars are anymore”.
But the early-set slew of new material proves too much for tonight’s audience who gradually begin to chat loudly amongst themselves, and the evening’s nadir comes when the frontman has to ask them for quiet in headmaster-like fashion prior to gorgeous new album highlight ‘Take Your Sweet Time’. Just as the show threatens to peter out, Bell X1 show they have enough gems in their back catalogue to stop things drifting into lacklustre indifference. The disco-infused synth bass of ‘Flame’ and soft-rock radio staple ‘Rocky Took A Lover’ perk the audience up, and a fitting David Bowie tribute brings a smile to everyone’s faces. Having performed the late icon’s smash hit ‘Let’s Dance’ as part of their set over the past year, tonight they mix it up with a wonderful take on ‘Ashes To Ashes’, with kudos going to the recreation of the song’s synth tones, virtually identical to the 1980 original.
It might be of some concern just how many of tonight’s best moments are from albums released several years ago and the disappointment is palpable when the audience realise the omission of the band’s best ballad, ‘Eve, The Apple Of My Eye’. Bowing out, fittingly, with a rousing rendition of ‘The End Is Nigh’, the whole theatre is united on its feet with hands in the air singing how “it was good to be human”, ending the show on a high note. With some of the new material struggling to make an impact live, tonight is, to use the old football cliche, a show of two halves. When Bell X1 are good, they are as good as any of their peers but tonight, we frustratingly only catch fleeting glimpses of how good a band they really are.