Bell X1 with David Ford @ the el Mo
The Emerald Isle has given us many great bands - U2, the Pogues, Stiff Little Fingers, Planxty - but sadly, Bell X1 is not one of them. Although the band was enthusiastically received by the crowd at the el Mocambo last night for their first ever gig in Canada, their flat, paint-by-numbers performance killed any need I might have had to see them again.
For me, the highlight of the night was David Ford's opening set, which he kicked off in fine form with "Go to Hell," the opening track from his most recent album Songs for the Road. The wandering Englishman utilized his box of toys to full effect on this tune, spontaneously recording one part, looping it, then overdubbing another until he had created a multi-layered mini-symphony to accompany his impassioned vocal delivery.
He also played a few of his older tunes, including an inspired rendition of "State of the Union" that got the people there completely wound up, only to do an about face for his last number, "Song for the Road." A grand weeper in the vein of Tom Waits' "Time Time Time," this piano ballad just oozes genuine, unaffected heartache and longing that's hard to deny. As the last chord died away, the witty balladeer from overseas tipped his hat, took a bow, and stepped off stage, having definitely not overstayed his welcome.
The crowd had definitely filled in by the time Bell X1 took the stage. They weren't exactly my cup of tea, but I sort of knew that going in, so I can't say I was truly disappointed. I didn't really find their album, Flock, that engaging, so seeing them in person was actually more exciting.
Stage banter was kept to a minimum, but there was a moment when singer Paul Noonan told a funny Canadian joke they attributed to a Canuck they've toured with in the past, Brian Sexsmith (I'm assuming they meant Ron, although I could be wrong). There was also a witty moment when he asked to have one of his female admirers "washed and brought to [his] tent." Not exactly PC, but what do you expect from a band that has a tune called "Reacharound."
All in all, it was a competently delivered, well-rounded set with very few surprises that could've ended a lot sooner than it did. I'd say the highlight of the set was probably the campy disco send-up "Flame," just because it was the only hook that repeated in my head on the way home (that bit about roasting marshmallows). But honestly, after the third song of their encore was done, so was I.
Photo of David Ford by Steve Chatterton