Live Review: Bell X1 with Tristen at Sixth and I Synagogue, Washington DC – 8th October 2013

By on Friday, 11th October 2013 at 2:00 pm

Photos by Cheryl Demas

The Historic Synagogue at 6th & I in Washington DC is a small, intimate space, known for its beautiful interior and acoustics. So when Bell X1 announced that they were playing the synagogue, it was a good indication that the gig wouldn’t be a full-on electric tour-de-force. But the music on Bell X1’s recent album, ‘Chop Chop’ (review here) is quite well suited for such an introspective place. Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan and opening act Tristen both acknowledged the synagogue as a sacred space in their remarks, and while they didn’t appear to be restrained by that, the tone of the evening was somewhat subdued from start to finish.

After a few issues with the audio equipment (which unfortunately appeared to continue throughout the show), Tristen Gaspadarek, known on stage as simply Tristen, played a generous six-song set drawn mostly from her debut album, ‘Caves’, which is due for release on 15 October. Her first song, ‘Red Lava Flows’, was typical girl-with-guitar fare, the slight country twang belying her Nashville roots. As her set went on, she added keyboards, a drum machine, and guitarist Buddy Hughen to her repertoire of sounds.

Tristen live

While her stripped back numbers were good, they weren’t particularly remarkable; with the added layers of sound came greater emotion and audience connection. She seemed more confident and in control of these larger arrangements, especially ‘No One’s Gonna Know’, which is available as a free download on her official Web site. She ended the set with a forceful performance of a fiercely emotional song called ‘Bourgeois Bouquet’. I was impressed enough to peek outside to the merch table after her set to grab a copy of ‘Caves’. Sadly, ‘Bourgeois Bouquet’ isn’t included on the album, but when I mentioned my disappointment to Tristen, who was peddling her own merch, she assured me that it would be on her next record.

Along with Hughen’s guitar chops, Tristen’s singing voice was the standout feature of the opening set. Delicately graceful at the top of her range, raw and raspy in the middle, it would have been a perfect addition to Bell X1’s set if they had employed her to do backing vocals on a couple of their new songs. Perhaps a missed opportunity, but it turned out that the Bell X1 lads had enough to juggle on their own.

In this earlier interview with me, Noonan had indicated that Bell X1’s live set for ‘Chop Chop’ would involve some experimentation with walking the instrumental parts among the players. This mostly involved Noonan and David Geraghty, though trumpet player Bill Blackmore did venture to the piano on ‘Flame’. Only bass player Dominic Phillips (described by Noonan as “the rock”) remained constant on bass and backing vocals. The band opened their set with the first track from ‘Chop Chop’, ‘Starlings Over Brighton Pier’, with Noonan on piano, Geraghty on drums, Phillips on bass, and Blackmore on trumpet. They bookended the set proper with ‘Chop Chop’ closer ‘The End is Nigh’, and while that choice was somewhat predictable, it was nevertheless effective, inspiring me to draw out my hanky (which I have learned is a must-have accessory for any Bell X1 gig).

Bell X1 Washington 2013 live 1

Naturally the set was heavy on tunes from ‘Chop Chop’, but Noonan mentioned trying to touch on all of their albums; only the seminal ‘Neither Am I’ was left unrepresented. Among the old favorites were thrown into the mix were ‘Next to You’, which took glorious advantage of Blackmore’s brass, and ‘Alphabet Soup’ from the decade-old ‘Music in Mouth’. Though this was a seated gig (in pews, no less!), hit tunes ‘Velcro’ and ‘Flame’ had us dancing in our seats.

Despite seeming a little tight at the outset, the band quickly settled into a groove and played a cozy set, very appropriate for the small, attentive crowd. This being the first show on the American tour, a few minor snafus were to be expected, but the lyric flubs and missed timings were gracefully handled, with Noonan at one point covering a false start on drums by calling it a demonstration of “Motown Fill #5”. This allusion was particularly apt, given the inclusion of soulful tunes ‘I Will Follow You’ and ‘Feint Praise’. The whole set had a laid-back, very loosely scripted feel, especially in the moments where Noonan and Geraghty switched instruments mid-song. The switching was handled deftly and will likely become smoother onstage as the tour progresses. Those of you lucky enough to catch a later gig in America or the UK (tour dates are listed on their official Web site here) will no doubt see more efficiently flowing transitions, but I was most pleased to see Bell X1’s spontaneous craftsmanship at work here.

Bell X1 Washington 2013 live 2

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2 Responses

2:15 pm
11th October 2013

Bell X1 @BellX1 with Tristen @tristentristen at Sixth and I Synagogue @SixthandI, Washington DC – 8th October 2013:

2:19 pm
11th October 2013

RT @tgtf: Bell X1 @BellX1 with Tristen @tristentristen at Sixth and I Synagogue @SixthandI, Washington DC – 8th October 2013:…

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