Bell X1 / The Upper Room - Manchester Academy 3 - 31.03.06

A great deal has been learned about the evergreen Alex Miller led Brighton quartet The Upper Room, on their two recent visits to Manchester. A few weeks back at The Roadhouse they were content to slowly drive home a searching set of rhythmic bemusement while the frenzy over Milburn just passed them by. They patently possess the belief that the race to get their message across is a marathon and not a three yard dash. Tonight, they pick up their momentum with the worrisome ‘Combination’, not surprisingly finding favour with a crowd who are bound to appreciate a melodic tilt, given the nature of the headliners.

The three pronged guitar attack is at its most captivating in their first single ‘All Over This Town’, as the roving bass lines of Beau Barnard weaves around the whirling guitars and are topped off by Miller’s gritty cries. The Embrace type reverb of the soulful ‘Kill Kill Kill’ and melodious lost love swirl of ‘Once For Me’ has hands in the air and voices on the go, drumming home The Upper Room’s already accessible nature. The finale of forthcoming single ‘Black And White’ re-enforces a laboured point that painstaking indie with a deliciously catchy chorus swirl, never loses its impact, no matter how often it is regurgitated. Those who didn’t want this number to end (of which there were many), were partly appeased on the way down the stairs to the bar. A group of excited girls took it upon themselves to treat us to a shrill and resounding chorus only, acappela version of the song. Look out for a possible fans’ remix version on the single.

The bigger sound of the third album of Ireland’s Bell X1 entitled ‘Flock’, has attracted a sell out crowd. The funky and forceful ‘Bigger Than Me’ parades this new direction that is toed along by Paul Noonan’s deeper vocal range. The sound on some numbers from the ecclesiastical folk tinged second album ‘Music In Mouth’ is supplemented by a double percussion element, in the form of a sweet corn shaped maraca that is deftly shaken but not stirred by Noonan in ‘Next To You’. It is clear from the enthusiastic reception at the conclusion of this number and that of the slowly melting ‘Alphabet Soup’, the relentless touring done in promotion of this album including shows with Keane and Snow Patrol has slowly sunk in by the process of osmosis.

The flirtation with R N B of latest single ‘Flame’ is indicative of the quintet’s increasing range, vocal power and a more positive outlook shines out. However, a lovelorn and longing nature does not escape the new numbers, with the plodding
reflection of ‘Lamposts’ setting a contemplative tone. Noonan’s almost theatrical stage presence is utterly compelling, thus a sideline in method acting is not out of the question. You get the feeling that he is digging deep into his heart to give validity to his performance of numbers like the booming ‘Tongue’ towards the end. A Tom McRae moment descends upon the venue for the final track of a ranging 90 minute set. The depiction of love as a poker game of ‘I’ll See Your Heart and I’ll Raise You Mine’ proves to be a winning hand.

David Adair

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