by / December 18th, 2013 /

Villagers / Jape – Cork

We’ve heard little of Jape or Richie Egan in 2013 but two fantastic albums of Irish electronic-rock have you reeling at what might be on offer tonight after almost a year in hiding. Egan and co. take to the stage, single file and quite politely introducing themselves before launching into a set that is remarkably well put together, showcasing the old and the new; mostly the new, and mostly cracking tunes. Standout tracks include ‘The Hearts Desire’ and ‘Absolutely Animals’; as each builds from a fantastic hook, Egan thumbs his bass guitar before the samples, drums and keys all rise into a beautifully raucous cacophony of ambient-euphoria. Of the old material, ‘The Oldest Mind’ seems the most confident; his talent has only grown since debut and long may it continue.

Following a lengthy set-up allowing for one more pint more than expected, Villagers take to the stage and, glancing at the sea of technology pointed at him, Conor J. O’ Brien wastes no time and opens the evening as {Awayland} does, with ‘My Lighthouse’; a beautiful, hymnal track of weariness and self-preservation. There’s almost an equal measure of old and new material although, to put the success of {Awayland} in perspective, those from the more recent past are by far the most outstanding of the evening. ‘Passing a Message’, ‘Nothing Arrived’ and ‘The Waves’ all arrive in the first half of the set and render the sold-out venue mute, intent on hearing every syllable from O’ Brien’s mouth.

For fans of that extraordinary debut, ‘The Pact… I’ll Be Your Fever’ and ‘Becoming A Jackal’ provide a chance to join the chorus – although the title track is not completely the same, the subtle changes in instrumentation allowed the song to explore its boundaries. Most of the first record in fact is subject to small changes, which after three years is most welcome. As the evening passes, O’ Brien indulges the audience with his charm and leaves many wide-eyed that such a talent can also have a personality; as so many do not. Introducing some new and rarely heard material, ‘I Want to Occupy Your Mind’ is a fantastic tale which serves as a prelude to ‘Earthly Pleasure’, in my opinion one of the finest examples of Irish song writing in years. The seldom heard ‘Memoir’ (originally included on ‘The Waves’) appears as does a rendition of Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’; “the best song ever written” according to the dashing frontman. With a choir of Corkonians to fill in the lyrics he misses, O’ Brien has one surprise to finish on; a new track written in a Tokyo hotel, ‘Hot Scary Summer’ a love song that leaves the audience with the lines “I’ll fight to care, if you care to fight”.

It’s a humbling experience to sit among an audience with Conor J. O’Brien. His presence is as immeasurable as his modesty; the jarring discord he provides between stunning melodies and disturbing lyrical themes and images do something that very few Irish musicians have achieved. To echo Richie Egan’s earlier comment: “that gentleman embodies everything I hold dear about music.”

Villagers photographed at Vicar St for State by Mark McGuinness.