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by Erin Holmes and Courtney Pittman

The “She Said / She Said” concert-reviewing Dream Team is composed of friends and admitted music junkies, Erin & Courtney. These two serendipitously met en route to a Local Natives show in fall 2010 and have since seen 40+ shows together, developing a deeply rooted love for DC’s music venues.

Here they’ll attempt to translate their typical, PBR-fueled post-show banter onto paper to share with you and the interwebs. Much like a Presidential debate, they generally agree on the basics but diverge on the details. Also, they have different hair.

Let’s do this.

Bell X1 @ Jammin Java, 10/10/12

EH: This autumn season has delivered me into the comfortable arms of a twee music-loving mood. That combined with my love for all things Irish, especially in blustery weather, led to my interest in Irish band Bell X1’s name on Jammin’ Java’s October calendar. More importantly, a recognizable name on Jammin’ Java’s calendar was all I needed: After two years of DC concert-going, the time to finally trek out to this VA venue and quench my curiosity had arrived.

CP: Being without car, we took the green line to the end of the orange line, Vienna, and had to hop in a cab from the Metro station. My skepticism mounted as the driver cut through various neighborhoods before turning into a strip mall, pulling to a stop at our supposed destination. It looked exactly like the suburban coffeehouse in central PA that was cool to frequent in high school, and validated all of those teen TV dramas in which the protaganists saw real up-and-coming bands in some cozy venue I never quite understood (Jack Donaghy explained to me that networks featuring these bands is something called ‘Vertical Integration.’) Given this, I was half expecting to be surrounded by insanely attractive 24 year-olds dressed as high schoolers.

EH: The reality was, once inside, we didn’t find it too difficult to find a spot at the end of a long table with friendly folks wanting to talk to us (what!), ask us where we’re from (fellow Pennsylvanians!), and discuss what brought us to see the music that night. Jon and Megan, married couple and avid Bell X1 fans, traveled from Pittsburgh to see the band that had provided the original soundtrack to their romance. Our new friend Bo from Fairfax generously drove us back to the metro station after the show; I have no idea how we would’ve gotten back otherwise. Not sure if these folks—friendly people with cars— are more indicative of the JJ clientele or the Bell X1 fan base. Felt unique though.

CP: Speaking of unique, how about that opener, Duke Special and his impressive dreadlocks? Between the otherwordly suburban Java setting and Duke kicking off the show with theatrical zeal on piano, I felt for a moment that Aladdin was
showing me “A Whole New World.”

EH: Is it weird I’ve been referring to him as Duke Silver and actually thinking that was correct? Anyway, I was absolutely terrified when Duke SPECIAL started singing those showtunes-like… tunes. I noticed we both drank our beers a little faster. Then all of a sudden, whatever Duke was doing with his thick eyeliner and Irish stories about his fake-musical songs inspired by Alfred Stieglitz and 18th-19th century what-have-yous kind of started working for me. Idk.

CP: Maybe it was the beer…

EH: Can we attach a picture or scan those awesome songsheets he passed out for people to sing along?

CP: Probably just the knowledge that he passed out songbooks to the crowd is descriptive enough. I thought the theatricality of his set evoked the songs of Jason Segel’s character from ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall.’

EH: UM YES. If he were to write a puppet musical about Alfred Stieglitz and his struggle against regular people buying Kodak cameras and destroying the art of photography, I would fucking see that puppet musical.

Okay now let’s pivot to Bell X1. I’ll just keep talking.

Sticking with CP’s high school theme, I’m pretty sure I heard bytes of Bell X1 songs—“Eve is the Apple of My Eye” and “In Every Sunflower”— featured on that really alternative/edgy show called The O.C. The band stayed on my radar over the years (I discovered a recent album while studying abroad in Ireland), incorporating elements of electronica, rock, and sappy pop. So I was interested to see what their 2012 acoustic album ‘Field Recordings,’ and acoustic tour (sans the electronic element?) would bring to the table.

CP: Here’s where I should inform everyone that I brought nothing to the table. The Bond of the Concert Friendship dictates sometimes that your friend knows the band, you don’t, you go anyways. So, having never heard Bell X1 before they took the stage, it’s possible the suburban / coffeehouse / One Tree Hill vibe influenced my initial reaction: This singer’s beautiful, chalky voice crooned safely over the strum of several acoustic guitars to PG choruses about teenage notions of romantical grandeur (“I’ll be your positive / You’ll be my negative”) (“I’m not over you / Can I get back under you?”). Also, the bassist looked like Joey Tribbiani.

EH: Concur with all of that. Their lyrics sound cheesier sans electronica, especially their newest song, “Velcro,” which did fairly well on the public radio circuit last year. I also wanted so badly for that “chalky singer” Paul Noonan to channel fellow-Irish-crooner Glen Hansard and belt a little louder, just fookin lose it on at least one song. He almost got there. But I enjoyed when he got on drums or they provided some subtle electric beats.

CP: Agreed on the drums. But, even in spite of a song titled “Bad Skin Day,” Bell X1 disarmed me with a charming stage presence. They alluded to Cool Runnings while describing playing American football against the Secret Service on the mall, and utilized an assortment of one-line mashups within their songs, inlcuding Ms. Jackson, End of the Road, With or Without You, and Golddigger as penned by Irish poet W.B. Yeats.

EH: “She ain’t messin with no broke scribbler.” Love those Irish. The Boyz II Men “End of the Road” interlude on their nostalgic song “Slow Set” had to have sent you back to that high school comparison though.

CP: At least that one was intentional, though. Ultimately, a few impassioned songs at the end of their set won me over. “Flame,” increased the tempo and injected some funk into the set, adding some blues guitar and layered vocals. “The Great Defector” followed, closing out the set with the same uptempo, bouncy lyrics. The first song of the encore, “Offshore,” cemented the entire show for me, featuring the multi-instrumentalist singing, often in falsetto, on lead vocals. The song built on itself, propelled forward by an eerie repeating piano string; for the first time all night I had the feeling that something grander might be hanging in the balance.

EH: “Flame” is actually not my favorite but, along with “Alphabet Soup,” yielded huge cheers from a surprisingly (to me at least) enthusiastic crowd. Highlights for me were the extremely sappy O.C. throwback “Eve is the Apple of My Eye” (one of their many many songs with religious allusions), “How Your Heart Is Wired,” and I agree with CP on “The Great Defector.” I appreciated learning that song is about them falling in love with the U.S. while touring here; while personally it reminds me of my time studying abroad and falling in love with THEIR country, Ireland (“Blue lights on the runway / I love the color of it all”). We should also mention they brought Duke Silver Special back on stage for a Roy Orbison singalong, “She’s a Mystery to Me,” to conclude the magical evening in VA.

CP: Perhaps MORE importantly, we need to mention Jammin Java’s amazing gourmet hot dogs and chili. Beware that chips crunch loudly during intimate sets though. Just saying.

EH: Yeahh what kind of assholes order crunchy chips during intimate sets? (The us kind. We made a huge mistake.)

But wow, that hot dog. Let’s end this by telling everyone they need to get out of DC to Jammin’ Java and to order all of the gourmet hot dogs. It’d be a good time to explore a friendly venue outside the District’s limits, a beautiful place for a date, or at the very least a way to yield a night of interesting stories among old and new concert friends.

SET LIST
Bad Skin Day
How Your Heart Is Wired
Velcro
Rocky Took A Lover
Next To You (interlude: Ms. Jackson by Outkast)
Alphabet Soup
Eve, the Apple of My Eye
Motorcades (new song)
74 Swans
Flame
The Great Defector

ENCORE
Offshore
Slowset (interludes: End of the Road by Boyz II Men, With or Without You by U2)
She’s a Mystery to Me (Roy Orbison cover)

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