The sole complaint I had about the night was the change of venue from Mt. Stage’s Cultural Center home ground to the little theater of the Charleston Civic Center due to scheduling conflicts. The venue itself was fine, but the Civic Center serves alcohol and so I spent the night beside a couple drinking and reeking of beer. Standard fare for an arena concert, but a little disconcerting for Mt. Stage. Oh well, a small price to pay to be seated on the front row for such a grand show.
Irish troubadour Paddy Casey was the first to perform, accompanied only by his guitar, a girl named Fiona, and her piano. Though I’d heard Casey isn’t one to banter much with the audience, I thought he seemed very gracious and charming throughout his set. His jokes were few but funny and seemed genuine, which I found far more enjoyable than the fake babble some artists spew between songs. And what a voice. He played two of my favorite tracks from Amen (So Be It) – the lovely “Sweet Suburban Sky” and “Fear” – as well as a couple of songs from his new album Addicted To Company. His voice was plaintive and beautiful, his songs were entrancing, and I was greatly disappointed when he left the stage.
Tyler Ramsey had the misfortune of stepping into Paddy Casey’s shadow. Casey stood and listened from the wings as Ramsey opened with the title track from A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea. I liked the song well enough on the album (review forthcoming), but it seemed somewhat redundant and lifeless compared to the passion in Paddy’s music. But I was better able to appreciate Tyler’s smooth voice on the pretty second song “Worried”, and I think I would have loved his set any other night.
Brooke Miller was up next, joined by the Mountain Stage band. As if jamming with the house band weren’t enough to win over the hometown crowd, Miller tossed plenty of bubbly chatter in between songs. The music on the upbeat tunes “World On A Whim” and “Country From The Dome Car” sounded great, but it was difficult to hear Brooke’s vocals over the roar of the band. The strength of her voice was more apparent as the music dropped to a hush on the powerful ballad “Two Soldiers”. And even the drunk punk next to me started cuddling with his girl when Brooke sang the romantic title track from her album You Can See Everything.
Then Bell X1 stole the show. Their live renditions of “Rocky Took A Lover”, “Eve, The Apple of My Eye”, and “My First Born For A Song” from their recently re-released album Flock were even more magnificent than the studio recordings. Lead singer Paul Noonan’s voice was especially melodic on the ethereal ballad “Eve, The Apple of My Eye” and his performance of “My First Born For A Song” was absolutely hypnotic. As good as Flock is, the production on the album hinders Noonan’s wail on that particular song.
Just when I thought Bell X1 had reached the limit on awesome, Noonan took out a cowbell and they tore the house down with their rock disco anthem “Flame”. They dedicated the tune to West Virginia native Chuck Yeager, the pilot of the first airplane – the Bell X1 from which the band took their name – to fly faster than the speed of sound. It’s hard to believe Paul Noonan was the drummer of Juniper (his old band with Damien Rice), he seems such a natural lead. I love when singers throw their entire bodies into a song like he does, reaching out to the audience and throwing himself around the stage as he sang. When he first walked on stage, I thought he was cute but not really my type. But by the time he finished singing, I think every female in the audience – myself included – would gladly “toast marshmallows” with him.
The crowd cheered and clapped until my hands hurt, so the producers of the show asked the band to play an extra song. They ended with an older ballad, “I’ll See Your Heart and Raise You Mine”, from Music in Mouth. Noonan encouraged everyone in attendance to find, download, and share the song, so the mp3 is below. With the possible exception of Laura Love, witnessing Bell X1’s set at Mountain Stage was the best concert experience of my life so far. If you have the chance to see them in concert, do whatever you have to and be there.
Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile were the final act. While I loved their spirited performance of “Punch Bowl” from their album Punch and their instrumentation is undeniably good, the two lengthy “Blind Leaving The Blind” movements they played were far too long to endure sitting in the beer fumed theater. Though the boredom I felt during the epic songs melted away under the warmth of Thile’s self-deprecating humor. That boy sure is a charmer.
Host Larry Groce announced that the group finale would be an Irish song, so I was surprised when they burst into “Gloria”. Though I was familiar with the Van Morrison recording, I didn’t realize Morrison also wrote the song. I love Patti Smith’s cover best, but the Mt. Stage group more than did it justice. Definitely one of their best finales, particularly the verses that Casey and Noonan sang. The whole crowd sang along.
We had a brief encounter with Paddy Casey outside after the show. My husband – himself an Irishman – mentioned that he had attended one of Paddy’s performances in a small club years ago when we still lived in Ireland. Casey was friendly, but was obviously out there for a smoke rather than to greet fans. So we left him to it. Sadly, I was unable to add Paul Noonan to my Irish boy collection. Another time perhaps.