With his debut album going straight in at number one, a spine-tingling performance on Jools Holland and a high profile label behind him, all seems rosy in the Villagers‘ camp. Tonight’s show in Dublin is the culmination of a mini tour of Ireland to launch the album and the preceding shows have clearly allowed to the band to build up a head of steam coming into this final night. With the band primed, an audience waiting and the feel good factor of a weekend of glorious sunshine capping it all off, the stage was set for what was likely to be, as support act Rhob Cunningham put it, one of the gigs of the year.
‘The Meaning of the Ritual’ kicked things off with its strains of sunken grandeur, slowly growing into a dark and hazy whirl of layered vocals and organ swells. It immediately sets the mood for the rest of the night, as songs turn and change, guided by five men half hidden on the sparsely lit stage. O’Brien is, as ever, the focal point. His voice is at its finest tonight and his peculiar mix of howl and croon fills the songs throughout. His guitar playing has been note-worthy in his work with both The Immediate and Cathy Davey and that is still the case here, though it is more subtle with most of the histrionics and general rock star shapes being taken care of by the low-slung Les Paul of Tommy McLaughlin.
Most of the album gets trotted out tonight and it is a testament to the quality of the band that they are considerably more impressive in a live environment. Every twist is a little looser, every quiet interlude more intense and every climax more raw and unhinged. Though the renditions are note-perfect they bristle with increased energy and accentuated passion. The songs are of a quality that makes it difficult to pick between them though stand-outs included ‘Pieces’ with its demonic wolf howling and closer ‘Ship of Promises’.
After quitting the stage first time around, the band returned for a two song encore, finally finishing on the exquisite single, ‘On A Sunlit Stage’. The song displays O’Brien’s song-writing ability at its finest and it’s non-appearance on the album is a little baffling. It is more than able to stand on its own though and tonight’s rendition is beautiful, touching and the perfect way to finish a special night. Thanking his family and the audience before leaving for the final time, O’Brien is a gracious victor. On the evidence of the thrilled crowd, clapping long after the stage was empty; I’d say the appreciation is mutual.
Photos: Loreana Rushe
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