Lead singer Conor O’Brien comments that the last time Villagers played at Oran Mor there was a snowstorm outside and a very small crowd inside.
The disappointing departure of the fleeting April heatwave means that the weather hasn’t changed much since their previous visit, but fortunately there has been improvement in terms of the growth of their following.
From the atmospheric hum which signals the opening of ‘Darling Arithmetic’, the band commands stillness in the room, and it’s clear that the intimacy of the venue is the perfect environment for the subtle magic of their music.
This first track encapsulates the style of their newest album, which also goes by this title, and demonstrates a shift from the richer textures of their second record towards showcasing a more experimental side of folk.
The set, which in its entirety sounds like the soundtrack to an indie film, incorporates tracks from all three of Villagers’ albums, and the band cleverly demonstrates the development of their sound by playing some of their old favourites in a style more in keeping with their new material.
It is this technique, which transforms ‘Nothing Arrived’, one of the band’s more poppy hits, into a beautiful acoustic moment steeped in poignancy – undoubtedly one of the highlights of the night.
O’Brien is a mesmerising performer with a unique voice, which defies individual comparisons, although it could be said that his tone sits somewhere between the soothing scratchy soul of Joshua James and the angelic upper reaches of James Vincent McMorrow, and songs such as ‘Naïve’ draw attention to a strength in his vocal, which isn’t necessarily detected on their recordings.
The stripped back attitude the band approach their new music with places their lyrics centre stage, which is fortunate as they are clearly the product of skilful song writing, which blends poetry, wordplay, tangible characters and painfully raw emotion.
A country influence comes to the fore in ‘Little Bigot’, which involves a classic melody played over a melee of sprawling scales in a technically dysfunctional yet eerily effective marriage of major and minor.
As ever, the band save the best to last with their encore, which opens with popular single ‘Becoming A Jackal’, followed by ‘Pieces’ and ‘Courage’, two emotional yet ultimately uplifting tracks, which form a fitting conclusion to the evening.
Words: Ellen Renton
Photos: Elina Lin