With only a handful of live outings under their belt, the band simply known as Villagers are already being looked to as a new hope. The release of a four-song EP entitled Hollow Kind has shifted the heat up a notch. It’s now Saturday night, and there’s something subtly quaking throughout Crawdaddy tonight.
Once openers Jon Dots’ “I’m mad, me” frontman has finished rolling around on stage, various Villagers begin to tune up and get levels in order. Little big chief Conor O’Brien shuffles out to attend to his slender acoustic and some audience members can’t help but release a whoop or two.
The former Immediate and current Cathy Davey guitarist is clearly one gig-fit hombre. He resembles a sort of alt-rock hobbit – big voice and ambition, short legs and trousers. Lyrical tapestries of confusion and redemption are bleated delicately, yet directly, in quieter spots, before the boyish face intensifies to summon an arresting and bellicose howl. It can be difficult to take your eyes off him as this huge sound releases itself and forces him onto tippy-toes or causes his knees to give way.
Another thing making it hard to divert your eyes to the rest of the group is the unpleasant amount of talent in operation. From the Cathy Davey and One Day International stables, Cormac Curran and Danny Snow move experienced hands about keys and bass respectively. Skin slapper James Byrne can do what he wants, when he wants. Tommy McLaughlin’s Johnny Greenwood guitar squalls risk knocking the diminutive leader off stage during thrilling, room-swallowing crescendos, such as in the galloping ‘Ship Of Promises’ and ‘Idle Years” equally stormy workout.
From the off, the quintet both confound and confirm any expectations of them. The spasmodic rush of The Immediate has been left behind in favour of something warmer and more clear-headed. Rhythmic rumbles develop into tremors. Melodies climb and climb. Soulful piano and acoustic guitar is suddenly cleaved by crashes and roars. Villagers are reminiscent of a couple of Bends-era Radiohead tracks or a more folky Smiths but those these comparisons might do Villagers a disservice. O’Brien will always allow a song to travel where it pleases, and has expressly stated that he wants to “keep it open”, suggesting that the project’s form and product will be in continual flux.
A smile or two escape him. “This is kind of amazing” sighs the singer, scanning the packed room on Harcourt Street and taking the words out of the few hundred mouths there.
Photos by Julie Bienvenu