by / March 26th, 2013 /

Villagers – Dublin

Things haven’t always been spectacularly smooth sailing for Villagers: when Conor O’Brien and co. headlined Marlay Park back in the summer of 2011, it was their undercard of Beach House and Stornoway that really impressed. O’Brien later admitted that he was so tired that he doesn’t remember a lot of the first album shows, and even worried that he’d never sing again. There were memorable moments, but we couldn’t help feeling the local stars had stepped a little beyond their true scale. Tonight, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

If Becoming A Jackal was about a paranoid view on the world, a raw darkness of poetry that painted pictures with words, follow up {Awayland} came across more like a search for landmarks amongst the grey and smoggy; a trawl for hope and security delivered in a comfort blanket of newly-acquired Berlin-techno influences. As it turns out, the disparate parts – elements that threatened to be a distinctly uncomfortable blend when ‘The Waves’ first appeared – actually fuse into a truly stunning live show.

Villagers have always been the type to let their music do the talking, and with the new setup it’s still more important: melodies flow into each other and songs weave into head-spinning stories. There’s still a sense O’Brien’s selling you his fears, but he’s doing so without some of his best tracks (the memorable ‘Pieces’ and ‘{Awayland}’ are the only tracks from either album missing from a monster nineteen song set). He focuses on an overall feel instead. It’s abrasive at times, fluttering from notably harsher than on record to the most charmingly subtle of spaced-out ditties.

‘Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever)’ stands out as one of the only examples of a straight-up singer-songwriter style effort now; the musical simplicity highlights the clever love song in the lyrics. ‘The Waves’ swirling instrumentals and heady corners offer the trippiest moment, and there are a few, even if the live show leans closer to conventional band format than the sparkling synthetic elements of {Awayland} might suggest.

Then there’s ‘Ship Of Promises’ and ‘That Day’, both exceptionally sparse, but rendering the Olympia crowd in pin drop silence, and threatening a tearful edge. They’re offset starkly by Conor’s howling endings. The set’s held together through the bridging tracks amongst the newer material, tracks like ‘Nothing Arrived’, and countered dramatically with ‘My Lighthouse’ and ‘Judgement Call’, which take on entirely different dimensions live. Despite being very much the O’Brien show when it comes to writing, Villagers are every bit a band live, playing emphatic tricks with volume and dousing the set in moments that heave with emotion.

This is the final date of Villagers first post-{Awayland} tour, and once again all signs point to lift off. There’s a depth of style and content that simply didn’t exist with the debut alone, and for a man who admits to an extremely nominal knowledge of electronic music production until only a year or two ago, the sparse yet compelling beat spatterings are truly special. If Villagers were impressive before – and they were – the daring approach to album number two and its conversion into a live setting might just be a high watermark for Irish music this century. Ramp up expectations: Villagers WILL deliver.

Photo: Luis Faustino. See more here.

  • Mantis Taboggan

    I found him to be quite egotistical and self indulgent. Felt it was Conor O’Brien plus 4 rather than Villagers.

  • I don’t find him particularly like that myself Mantis, but to be fair he does write almost everything, so if there’s a little ego involved… well Conor O’Brien IS Villagers to quite a large extent…

  • bmaque

    Id agree with the general gist of the review James, although Id have to differ with you re ‘The Waves’ which seems to have spilt fans right down the middle. For me its one of the most unique and startling tracks I have heard in a long time; I thought it was one of the highlights of the show. It stands out a bit when compared to the other material but only because it is different. I hope its a sign of develoment to come. Overall they were smooth and assured…well, at least untiul he knocked his drink all over the place..

    With regard to your comments mantis, I dont relaly get where you are coming from in that I dont see any manisfestation of this rampant ego you are talking about. Its possible his head has inflated due to the startling amount of flattery he has been served up this last 36 months but then again, if I had won an Ivor Norvello at the first attempt and had the likes of Radiohead bigging me up, id probably be thinking I was Jesus Christ too. He seems remarkably level-headed to be honest. The band are a great band but its scaffolding around his exceptional talent at the end of the day.