With two Mercury nominated albums and three Irish chart topping records, Villagers front man, Conor O’Brien, and his band have become somewhat of a household name as they earned recognition with their unique indie folk sound. The last time Villagers embarked on an Irish tour was during the marriage referendum, a matter close to the frontman’s heart, as a former canvasser and equality advocate. Known for his personal lyrics relating to difficult life experiences such as battling homophobia, O’Brien has an extraordinary ability to combine evocative storytelling with an utterly captivating live performance.
The set opens with the flamboyant Memoir. All bass and flair, the song sets the tone for the rest of the night as O’Brien’s words ring loud in the evening’s ears: “Every memory is sailing to the kingdom of your soul, As you patiently await and lose all sense of self control.” The singer’s beautiful vocals combined with his mastery of songwriting make the audience swoon.
The band do not hesitate in bringing out the oldies, as a mere three songs into the set we hear the eerie opening riffs of I Saw The Dead, showcasing O’Brien’s superb piano skills. Other noteworthy familiars include The Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever) and Twenty Seven Strangers. Both go down a treat as by O’Brien’s request, “only those who can sing”, echo back the words.
O’Brien’s dry humour and evident confidence represent a different performer than the shy, awkward, twenty-something back in 2010. Stylish, with expertly kept facial hair, O’Brien is assured onstage, admitting of his talent while retaining complete humility. The transformation is evident on songs like Hot Scary Summer which give listeners an insight to the artist’s most inner thoughts and battles, his vulnerability creating a great emotional connection with the audience.
Noteworthy in Villagers’ evolution is their exploration of sounds and themes different from their traditional acoustic singer/songwriter sound. The live rendition of Little Bigot is an excellent example of such a successful transformation as the dramatic harmonies and overlapping sharp melodies enforce a spine chilling atmosphere over Vicar Street.
A stripped back No One to Blame reintroduces the calming effect the band have on their audience as O’Brien’s crooning is backed solely by piano and harp. An encore of That Day, Wichita Lineman – the Glen Campbell classic – and Courage are the perfect ending to a wonderful evening.
Villagers are irrefutable evidence that the sheer talent of the Irish music scene is growing at a rapid rate. O’Brien has taken songcraft to a new level and the band’s records and live performances show that Villagers are one of the best things to happen in folk music to date.