On Bell X1’s tour featuring James Vincent McMorrow, they came to Lincoln Hall in Chicago. You can check out our review after the break.
Every once in a while you get the pleasure of hearing a truly great opening act before they become very popular. Fortunately for the crowd at Lincoln Hall, this was one of those occurrences.
Irish Folk singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow took the stage in front of a decent crowd of people to play stripped down acoustic versions of songs from his excellent album, Early In The Morning. Originally released in February 2010, it was re-released in the US in January of this year. Having drawn comparisons to Bon Iver, Iron and Wine and Ray LaMontagne, as well as having songs featured on TV shows such as Parenthood and Grey’s Anatomy are sure to help his music become more accessible to fans.
Opening his far too short set with We Are Ghosts, a bonus track off of the new cd and B-side on his new 7 inch was an interesting choice. It was even more down tempo than his other songs, and when there is a mere half hour to impress a new audience oftentimes it is better to start with something the crowd may have possibly heard. However, it’s softly plucked acoustic guitar and beautiful vocals won over the crowd right away. At most shows with an acoustic artist there is a lot of talking, but the crowd was silent from the get go, enraptured by the beautiful vocals and heartfelt lyrics.
The remainder of the set was from the album, and some of the better-known songs even had crowd members singing softly along. James was very grateful to be back at Lincoln Hall, noting that he had previously played the venue with The Rural Alberta Advantage and thanking Bell X1 since his first tour of the US was with them in 2010.
Other set highlights included a stunning version of Follow You Down to the Red Oak Tree with just enough reverb in the vocals and guitar to possibly improve on the album version. The first single from the album, If I Had A Boat, started with an almost inaudible guitar and quiet vocals and built it’s way up to a beautiful, heartfelt chorus. The similarities of the vocals in this song to Justin Vernon of Bon Iver are a definite selling point to new fans.
Next up was BellX1, one of the biggest bands in Ireland, playing before a crowd way smaller than they would in their homeland. Breaking through in the US with a song in The OC, they have steadily gained popularity to the point that they have made repeat performances on late night TV shows such as Letterman and Conan.
Bell X1 began their set with Hey Anna Lena, the first track from their new album Bloodless Coup. With a stuttering drumbeat and keyboards leading the way, the rest of the band came in at the halfway point and really upped the energy level.
Velcro was propelled by a great bass-line and at times had 3 guitars going along with drums and keys.
Formally addressing the crowd for the first time other than a brief “Hello” and “Thank you,” lead singer Paul Noonan asked if anyone in the crowd was aware that it was 25 years to the day the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out and explained that it was their first impression of Chicago, which made him really want to make it over here. His other enduring memory was the Bear’s 1985 Super Bowl team and watching William “The Refrigerator” Perry on TV, since even the Irish watch the Super Bowl.
The first loud cheers of the night came with the opening keys of Rocky Took A Lover. There was a great sing-along from the crowd as the chorus began and all the instruments dropped out except for the keyboards.
Up next was their biggest US hit, Eve, The Apple of My Eye. A very melodramatic pop-rock song, this would not sound out of place on a Coldplay album, and is probably a great place to start if you are just trying to get in to Bell X1.
At the conclusion of the song, a fan yelled out, ‘We need weed!” Not to be shaken, Noonan replied, “We don’t do reggae. This is more of a speed, coke, disco thing,” before tearing in to Flame. He wasn’t kidding. At the first chorus the overhead disco ball lit up, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Coming back out for a two-song encore, the crowd really wanted more. Closing with 2 tracks from the new album, slow builder Nightwatchmen and up-tempo Sugar High were excellent choices. Sugar High ended with multiple keyboards, extra percussion in the for of a kick drum and cymbals, and Noonan dancing all over the stage, bringing the night to a great close.
Information about the review…
Tour: Bell X1 Tour feat James Vincent McMorrow
Bands: Bell X1, James Vincent McMorrow
Date: June 11, 2011
Venue: Lincoln Hall in Chicago, IL