Hoping to counter gravity Bell X1 emerge with The Upswing Tour. Tonight is a teaser of new material held on their as-yet-unreleased seventh album. Lights bounce off the 3D Bell X1 sign fixed to the back wall, while bits of drum-kits, keyboards and wires litter the stage. The band stroll onto the sold-out Vicar Street stage to a loop of “shake the boat” – scruffy and unassuming, they look like they are about to do anything but.
“You’re looking well, have you done something with your hair?” says Paul Noonan acting as ringmaster, standup comedian, lead-singer, and sometimes drummer. His rapport with the audience is something special, no doubt honed from the years he has spent being on the outnumbered side of the stage. His unabashed hilarity is ever present, whether he is beating a drum or doing a full body roll, he is a true entertainer.
Their hour and a bit set is a good balance of old and new tracks, with most of the favourites from their back catalogue ticked off. Musically they are sounding great, when they get going they fill every dark corner and sticky fire escape step with keyboard-plonks and drum-whisks. The songs stick around, they build and as Noonan said of ‘The Great Defector’ after he played chorus after chorus “I don’t know how to stop this now…”. On ‘The Upswing’ guitar and keyboard notes swirl around and land perfectly around Noonan’s emotive, slightly hoarse voice beautifully. There is a spine-tingling moment during ‘Rocky Took A Lover’ where every ooooo is sung back to them. Then ‘Eve the Apple of My Eye’ which is dedicated to Prince with a lovely introduction of “mad when someone dies that you never knew but you are sad” and David Bowie is remembered with a momentous encore of ‘Let’s Dance’ for another highlight.
But there is one problem, there is no atmosphere. The crowd seem too self-conscious to let their hair down, and the majority stand and silently view the stage. Without an exchange between band and crowd, you can see Bell X1 visibly floundering. It gets worse when the band play their new tracks which, poignantly, they seem to be really excited about. Understandably, Noonan looks slightly annoyed by this and employs a karaoke style on some of their much loved tracks as a backlash. This is a pity because tracks from the forthcoming Arms album sound promising. The new tracks herald a funkier synth-laden sound with shades of R&B. But this new direction is of course combined with Noonan’s ability to use wonderful off-kilter lyrics like “baby these aren’t the droids you’re looking for”.
Bell X1 should not be blamed for the lack of atmosphere, as no matter how much Noonan grooves and jives about, the crowd remain immovable. Even beloved tracks like ‘Flame’ and ‘Velcro’ couldn’t prod bodies into movement. Noonan even routinely offers up vocal duties to the crowd but with mixed results. He laughs, jokes and reminisces but very little seems to get them going. The most they get out of them is two dozen hands in the air for the chorus of ‘The End is Nigh’ and, at one point a single balloon is is produced for ‘Flame’ but there isn’t enough motion to keep even that afloat.
No amount of Upswing could beat the effects of gravity and Bell X1 didn’t quite manage to get the momentum going.
Bell X1 photographed by Kieran Frost.