Sometimes the show is as valuable as the music being played at a concert.This doesn’t happen often but is definitely the case at a Christopher Bell show. To be quite honest it is difficult to keep your eyes off of what he is doing. His instrument is the electric cello and he uses a variety of pedals to add layers to the music. Even with the large collection of material he has written, he still leans heavily on cover songs because he changes them so much they aren’t far from his own. The Cafe Acoustic in St. Joseph is a great venue for Bell’s show, on a Thursday night you assure yourself a slightly lower amount over-inebriated patrons talking loudly which was a big plus. The Cafe also has a separate front room, keeping some of the talkers divided from the show, although they could still be heard their talking was much less prominent. The newly enforced smoking ban also created a much cleaner environment for the show making it a tolerable place to inhibit after being filled with people for a few hours.
Near the beginning of the show was a cover of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” that seemed very appropriate because Simon’s sound on that particular album, Graceland, is close to the same vibe Bell radiates at his live shows. He uses his pedals to be an essential part of his show, looping a sound he makes and keeping it on reserve to turn on or off whenever he wishes during a song. These sounds range from him gently drumming on his cello to a vocal loop to some bass plucks to a drag across the cello strings and even him playing his cello like a large guitar. Starting a song with a simple loop, he repeats it and records a second or third loop and plays over the top of it. Nothing is pre-recorded so it is all live in a sense. It is as if he is playing a solo game of Tetris with his songs.
Watching this take place is irresistible, he shape-shifts frequently from a cellist, a drummer, a stand-up bass player to plucking at his cello like a mandolin or acoustic guitar and even occasionally turns of the distortion to play what sounds like power chords. It is like watching a car drive along on an interstate and as more and more cars join by way of on-ramps until rush hour hits and with a simple tap of Bell’s foot, he can be driving alone again. With his thick white glasses frames and his down to earth charisma he showed in banter in-between songs he quickly won over the crowd. He would be funny at times in both his songs and doing banter and could quickly shift to serious mode for songs as well.
His covers are very interesting, renditions of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” Peter Gabriel’s “Salisbury Hill” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” were great to hear so re-invented. The highlight of the show for many was likely his take on AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” adapted to the cello. The song was barely recognizable at times but Bell’s recreation of the guitar solo on the cello was a clear high point of the show. Personal highlights would be his Paul Simon covers “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al” because Bell feels so naturally in his element during those songs. His own material is obviously much more personal and you could see him expressing himself more when performing them. Mostly songs off of his latest record Fire were performed and most of them would be slower, burning songs.
The dark and ominous “The Cost of Living” was uncharacteristic in the set but still a highlight because of the same reasons it didn’t fit well. “Fire In My Heart” proved to be a faster and more upbeat song than the bulk of the set with a sing-along chorus and refined slow downs. His finale would prove to be “Rock N Roll Can’t Save Your Soul” and top off this school night show on a high note. The attentive crowd would ask for more but the bar curfew wouldn’t allow it. Bell had already impressed, enthralled and had given all he had already and won over several new fans.