There is something pleasant about the seating arrangements in the Olympia. No doubt the performers quite like the gentle, easy atmosphere it creates and for Conor O’Brien’s Villagers, in front of a plain black and markedly understated backdrop, they are serenity personified.
A little nod to a YES badge here, a bit of chit chat with the crowd there and a few very specific dedications, it’s all in a night’s work for O’Brien. His assured playing is only bettered by his vocals which have, over the last two years, become an instrument in themselves. ‘Set the Tigers Free’ and ‘Nothing Arrived’ are early highlights and some fine actual instrumentation – a harp, double bass and trumpet playing drummer, no less – adding some warmth to an already rounded and compelling bunch of songs. So familiar-sounding are these tracks tonight it is easy to overlook that the majority are taken from Darling Arithmetic, and are ostensibly brand new. Maybe it’s O’Brien’s voice, maybe it’s the setting, or maybe it’s the songs themselves, but Villagers’ strength seems to come from how disarmingly quaint and embracing the songs feel and sound.
‘So Naive’, ‘Everything I Am Is Yours’ and the beautiful ‘The Soul Serene’ (aptly) provide further examples of just how developed Villagers’ songwriting is. Tonight the songs are calmer and somehow manage to seem less insistent than their recorded incarnations, and that’s saying something. Neither the band nor the tracks can be described as anything that doesn’t evoke warmth but everything seems to fit, the venue, the crowd, the band. If only all gigs could be like this.
Villagers photographed by Kieran Frost