A new venue, an invite only audience and a live national radio broadcast. Villagers’ night at the Workman’s Club was as much celebration as a gig and by the time State turns a little before nine, it feels like those anxious few moments before the guest of honour arrives for his surprise party. Then the side door opens and there he is, armed only with a guitar and greeted by the expected rapturous applause. As the whistles and yelps die down, Conor’s intimate tones stills the crowd immediately and we are treated to the opening verse of ‘Cecillia’.
A hush falls across the room and the crowd, a mixture of enthusiastic fans and unassuming industry folk, are drawn closer, not wanting to miss out on a word of this bewitching bedtime story. It’s probably this one song which sets the tone for the entire show and apart from the deceptively simple sounding, ‘In A New Found Land, You Are Free’, it’s material from the album Becoming a Jackal which is aired tonight. While the album may have missed out on the Mercury Music Prize recently, both Conor’s and the audience’s belief in the songs is absolute and it shows. Throughout the hour long performance, Conor’s voice ranges from the intimate tones of a friend confiding in you on tracks like ‘27 Strangers’ and ‘The Pact’ to the soaring, almost rapture-like intensity on ‘Pieces’ and ‘Home’.
Conor is joined on organ for three tracks, by Cormac Curran, whose subtle strokes perfectly compliment each track giving the venue an almost church like feel for ‘The Meaning of the Ritual’. It will be interesting to see how American audiences respond to the fuller electric sound of the band, when they join Villagers for a US tour later in the year. Tonight however, it really is all about just the voice and guitar, and Conor skilfully weaves both together to amazing effect especially on ‘Ship of Promises’ and closing track ‘Pieces’ before finally reappearing for an encore performance of ‘On a sunlit stage’. Tonight’s performance by Villagers shows that despite several incredible appearances during the summer, fans still want more, much more. With a national tour and a headline gig planned for Vicar Street in December, they’ll soon get their chance.
Photos: Alan Moore