The Irish summer’s Murphy-like tendency to throw up the worst weather at the most inopportune moment led to the calculated gamble of hosting this summer’s Marlay Park concert series under cover of a marquee tent. With the sun splitting the rocks all day on Saturday, it’s only natural that many would forego the pleasures of the opening acts to enjoy the fortuitous heat, and as the cacophony of chatter grows ever louder during Villagers’ set, it’s somewhat baffling that they don’t just go home.
It had seemed a touch fanciful, the idea that a ticket of Villagers and Beach House, neither of whom is promoting an album, could come close to meeting the venue’s 5,000 capacity, and so it proves. There’s plenty of standing room to be found in the improvised arena during both support act and main event; though the temporary seating at the back of the tent, virtually deserted during the former’s set, is surprisingly close to full by the time Conor O’Brien and his gang hit the stage.
Baltimore duo Beach House labour through a set that drew heavily from their vaunted third album, Teen Dream. They dedicate ‘Norway’ to the victims of the massacre in Oslo and introduce another track as a cover of a future Justin Beiber single, but other than that there is little energy exchanged between band and audience. The sound is good – better than it has tended to be in Marlay Park – but the awkward surroundings and relatively scattered crowd make for an less than memorable performance.
The pair’s nervy, ethereal pop is great for intimate club gigs – they delighted a packed Vicar St. upon the album’s release last year – but it is tailor-made for a small outdoor stage, the gradually dimming sunlight having the potential to colour Victoria Legrand’s smoky vocals and Alex Skelly’s blissful harmonies with the perfect visual setting. The dank surroundings of the blue marquee capture neither the freshness of the outdoors nor the closeness of a club show, though the brilliance of crowd favourites ‘Zebra’ and ’10 Mile Stereo’ shine through regardless.
Villagers take to the stage promptly at 9, provoking a rushed influx of revellers who had been stubbornly absorbing the last of the sun’s fading rays as if they didn’t entirely trust it’d be back the following day. Playing to almost an hour and a half in total (no mean feat given that Becoming a Jackal is barely half as long), the group premier a couple of new tracks – ‘Memoir’ and ‘Beatitudes’ – in addition to just about every song on the album, including stellar encore pieces ‘Ship of Fools’ and ‘That Day.’
However, there is something forced about the whole thing, from the discomfiting light show to the stretched-out codas and instrumental flourishes. The fans closest to the stage are riveted, and there are moments when the chorus from the front drowned out the singer on stage, but the only chorus in the outer rings is the idle chatter that grows gradually louder and more obstructive after the respectful silence given to the first three or four numbers.
While Villagers draw the bigger crowd on the night, arguably more had come just to see Beach House. Their music is rangy and arresting, the kind that demands attention, but Villagers’ polished and deliberate folk pop is almost too polite for a setting like this. Villagers in concert are a lot like Villagers on record – albeit in a room full of people talking – so faithful and precise is their performance. It’s great for those already familiar with the music but less likely to win over the few hundred-odd boozy punters who haven’t come specifically to see them, which is why this Marlay Park gig may have come a year too soon.