Concert Review: Bell X1 at Double Door in Chicago

Bell X1

On a Friday night at the Double Door in Chicago, Bell X1was more than just an Irish rock trio. They were also musical cardiac surgeons performing sonic surgery on the hearts of the gathered. Lead singer/percussionist/guitarist Paul Noonan crooned softly as they began to slowly slice open the ballad “How Your Heart Is Wired”, a song where the lyrics imply coyness, confusion and uncertainty of love’s next steps.

“Kick the can I can’t see you now behind that temper and ire / Mister wolf knows what time it is / He says it’s dinner time / I don’t know what you’re carrying or how you’re heart is wired / but there’s a dangerous ticking / I cut the red one, No, the blue one / I cut the red one, I cut the blue one / raking over the embers and what I come across?”

But Noonan was anything but confused. He was confident, and sure of where he wanted to take the set, and how deep he wanted to go with fans. One by one, each song unfurled like a sweet smelling rose under the blue haze of the stage lights. Noonan tenderly quivered back and forth over lyrics that melded like fodder with the steady melody of his mates. The tender track “Like the Ribs of a Broken Umbrella” purred with a synthy undercurrent and dropped in our ears like a soft, sweet spring rain.

Bell X1’s fourth album Blue Lights on the Runway is full of moments where the songwriting continues to move further away from their previous albums by mixing folk, pop and sonic similarities inspired by Talking Heads and Brian Eno. Over the last several years, they’ve worked their way up the European charts and then into the ears of American fans by featuring songs on hit Primetime TV shows. Noonan had no shame telling the crowd how he felt about how the 2004 hit song “Eve, the Apple of My Eye” found its way into the ears of an American audience on The O.C. “We take our breaks were we can get them. We would have put the song on fucking Falcon Crest.”

Though most of the show shifted in all the right ways and flowed to all the right places on the strength of Noonan’s smooth and soothing lyrical storytelling, a bit of tension arose between Noonan and fans who gazed upwards in awe at him from the front row. Getting a bit frustrated, he wasn’t finding the intimate connection he was hoping for with the crowd. So he took a risk and decided to call out fans for abusing their right to record the show on video cameras and cell phones. He smiled at fans in the front row and said “I appreciate the desire, but the Internet doesn’t need any more videos of us Irish lads floating about, so can we sing a song for you without a lens between us?”

Somehow Noonan’s bold move worked. The band didn’t miss a beat or ruin the vibe of the show. Instead of making it an awkward moment, it was a move that actually took the mood of the set deeper—despite a few stubborn fans that still didn’t get Noonan’s hint to put away their digitized detractions and technological distractions.

Surging the set forward during the folk-pop anthem “The Great Defector”, a pocket of fans showed love for Bell X1’s homeland by breaking out an Irish flag and waving it with pride during the chorus. From there the buzz continued to build throughout the venue as the band traversed through the final songs.

Like they do throughout Blue Lights on the Runway, Bell X1, layer by layer, peeled back the emotional epidermis of fans so all that remained at the end of the show couldn’t be captured on video or shared on the Internet. Far beyond the end of the show and into the night, the songs continued to burrow deep and swift, confirming the fact that these Irish lads know exactly how our hearts and minds are wired.

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