Bell x1 – Amstelkerk – 09.12.2010

You can’t really go wrong with the unplugged format. If (and I suppose that can be a big if) the songs are strong enough, any professional band should be able to pull off an entertaining set with just a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass and a sprinkling of piano. And yet I couldn’t help thinking to myself during this gig that Bell x1 were doing a much better job than, say, the likes of Snow Patrol might have managed. There was a classiness and a musicality to their performance that gave it a real warmth and depth. (I could imagine something more, well, cold and shallow.) And it was mostly relaxed and good-natured, despite a couple of (very minor) early problems with the sound and a guitar falling over at one stage.

It was my first time in this venue, a small-ish church beside the Prinsengracht. It was a seated gig with a sold-out crowd of about 300-350 who listened quietly to every song. The listening was rewarded with a set of really nice performances of old and new songs. I particularly enjoyed Flame, Eve the Apple of my Eye and a couple of the songs they played from their new (unreleased?) album. They finished the main set encouraging everyone to sing along to The Great Defector, and then came back for an encore that started with an apparently never before performed (but understandably well-received) tribute to the time Noonan spent living in Amsterdam (“Amsterdam says”). They wrapped things up with I’ll See Your Heart, segueing into The Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

All in all a very enjoyable set in a lovely venue. Paul Noonan is a charismatic and entertaining frontman, but Dave Geraghty seems to be the glue that holds it all together. It’ll be interesting to see whether they recruit a new drummer for future tours. I’m not sure how far the unplugged format will take them from here.

The support act was John Smith, a Ray LaMontagne soundalike who played just four songs. It may have been a short set, but it was a very impressive one, particularly when he swung the guitar onto his lap and tapped, hammered and plucked out his final song, Winter. (Check it out on YouTube here.)

And here’s some Bell x1 from the current tour – it’s that The Great Defector singalong.