Opening the night were Wild Light. This is the second time I've seen this New Hampshire band this year as they also opened for Doves at the Majestic back in May. Much like that show, their set went over well with the crowd. This band seems to catch a lot of shit amongst bloggers and on music message boards and I don't get it from the reactions I've seen at two performances. I was definitely impressed by the new tracks they played as well, a solid start for a future album.
With Bell X1 gaining much deserved recognition in the States with the success of their single "The Great Defector", a top ten hit on the AAA format, the Blind Pig was packed by the time they took the stage. I'm sure the band had to wonder what type of reaction they'd get from an area they've never played before and lead singer Paul Noonan seemed visibly thrilled at the enthusiasm pouring back his way from the audience.
The sparse electronic drum beats of "How Your Heart Is Wired", one of the highlights of their current album "Blue Lights On the Runway", kicked off the set. Noonan's vocal delivery was every bit as impressive live as it is on record. There are no studio tricks here, he sounded fantastic throughout the night. Another of the new album's highlights, "The Ribs of A Broken Umbrella" followed after which Noonan announced they would be playing songs from all four of their studio albums. Since only two of them have been released in the U.S., he then told the crowd to "feel free to steal the other two from the Internet", which solicited laughs as well as cheers of appreciation.
Noonan's promise of older material came true on the very next song as they performed the mid-tempo ballad "Next To You" from their second album "Music In Mouth". It was then time to delve into "Flock", their stunning 2005 album that finally became their first American release in 2008. Much to my surprise, one of my favorite album tracks, "My First Born For A Song", was the first "Flock" track played. The band extended it into a funky outro with Noonan banging out beats on a set of timbales at the front of the stage. A scintillating performance that had the whole room moving, dancing and shouting their approval.
The song that first brought Bell X1 to the attention of American audiences via it's placement in the television series The O.C. came next as they performed the lovely "Eve, The Apple Of My Eye". Noonan was unapologetic of how the songs use in The O.C. helped bring the band to the States saying "You take your breaks however they come, we're not fussy". They then followed it up with the hit that replaced "Eve" as their most well known song in America, the infectious "The Great Defector" that again had the whole place jumping and singing along to it's memorable "love the color of it all" chorus. I always like when bands put their biggest hits in the middle of a set instead of going the obvious route of saving them for the encore.
The remainder of the concert was a perfect example of what has endeared me to this band, their versatility. I know they often draw comparisons to Coldplay and, yes, they do have their brand of melodic pop music and ballads, both anthemic and delicate. But Bell X1 also rock way harder than Coldplay has ever dared and they proved it on this night with searing renditions of "Tongue" and "Breastfed". Noonan told the crowd they wanted to pay tribute to such a legendary rock venue by incorporating some of their harder material into the set and they did not disappoint.
They closed out their main set with what Noonan called their 'disco song', "Flame" with its sing along chorus and another of their best known tracks, "Rocky Took A Lover". But in such a tiny club Noonan didn't see much point in leaving the stage for the usual encore routine proclaiming "There's no where to go so how about some more songs?" to roaring approval. The rest of the band left the stage leaving Noonan and multi-instrumentalist David Geraghty to perform a cover of "I Fought The Law" before everyone returned to close out the night with "White Water Song" and "One Stringed Harp".
It's a sign of a special show when you're already expecting to be impressed and the band still blows you away and that is what Bell X1 did on this night. Noonan is an engaging front man, at times reminding me of a mix of David Byrne and Michael Stipe with his spastic dancing. But he's also one of the wittiest lyricists at work in this genre today. The band was tight, flawlessly jumping from pop to hard rock to ballads to disco, even getting downright funky at times. A band this talented is not to be missed and hopefully the overwhelming response they received this night in Ann Arbor encourages them to make Michigan a permanent stop on their U.S tours.
- "How Your Heart Is Wired"
- "The Ribs Of A Broken Umbrella"
- "Next To You"
- "My First Born For A Song"
- "Eve, The Apple Of My Eye"
- "The Great Defector"
- "Rocky Took A Lover"
- "I Fought The Law"
- "White Water Song"
- "One Stringed Harp"