Saturday 17 November 2018

Bell of the ball

Bell X1 Vicar Street, Dublin ****

Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

let's call a spade a spade, they're not exactly the next big thing anymore. Kildare's finest alt-rock group, Bell X1, or as Pat Kenny prefers to call them, Bell Eleven, celebrate their first decade this year.

Even though long-standing founder member Brian Crosby has amicably left the fold, it seems that the band that plays together, stays together. The Bellies (as their fans affectionately call them) haven't even let losing a record deal get in the way of keeping afloat. Like The Frames, Bell X1 have displayed remarkable resilience in the face of adversity.

Opening with the first two tracks from their fine new album Blue Lights On The Runway, they're visibly in fine live fettle after a recent Stateside stint. Two songs in and we're already enjoying pleasing echoes of Radiohead and Animal Collective.

On the release of their second album Music Is Mouth, one critic raved: "Bell X1 make the kind of music Radiohead should be making." This time around, Talking Heads comparisons are flying around like confetti thanks to the radio hit The Great Defector. To be fair, it's an extremely Talking Headish song, but also happens to the best thing on the airwaves at the moment.

If anything, Bell X1 really earn their stripes and blow away such lazy comparisons. It's a revelation to hear the range and variety in the Bell X1 songbook after a decade, from romantic torch songs like Next To You to all-out belters like Tongue. A blinding light show does no harm at all to the cause.

Singer Paul Noonan has gone from awkward front man to a composite showman who owns the stage. Considerate bunch of chaps that they are, they even promise to have the show finished in ample time for the punters to catch buses and not get stranded by the taxi strike.

Flame spurs an impassioned sing-along and the atmosphere is quite simply electric for a Monday, or indeed any night. Special mention is thoroughly deserved for a new Dublin band called Villagers led by Conor O'Brien, formerly of The Immediate.

Their brittle and beautiful songs are among the very best to emerge locally in recent times. They'll be well worth catching as they embark on their inaugural Irish tour in the coming weeks.

Bell X1 are good on record but cracking live. It's little wonder that they're the leading Irish group being touted as genuine international contenders. It's truly heart warming to witness this band hitting the peak of their powers. This was one of those special nights that rekindles one's faith in Irish music.

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