Villagers [Live]


In the face of a bitterly cold night, 200 odd people were huddled into Oxford’s o2 arena. They had patiently stood for the opening band, We Were Evergreen, as they finished their pleasant set. But they were all there for Villagers.

After a fairly long wait and a growing sense of middle-class impatience, Villagers came to the stage. They started their set with a shy and almost apologetic rendition of the opening track from {Awayland}, the band’s Mercury nominated sophomore album released at the beginning of this year. After three songs, none of the band members, not even the bushy-bearded drummer, had said a word. The most we got out of him was a couple of ‘you’re too kind’s and a few words of thanks. But when he wasn’t mumbling shy pleasantries to the crowd or demanding further applause for his support act he was howling on stage.

‘You just split yourself in two/one for them and one for you,’ sings O’Brien in Villagers’ equally acclaimed first album, Becoming a Jackal.

This is exactly what he did.

He was both man and animal, and he balanced an unfaltering technical precision with a wild and undeniably sexual performance. “Take my body/take it from me” he sighed, his left leg curling up his right. often O'Brien and his band quietly drove through the songs as if in a state of mediation. At other times the music seemed to escape from him in an almost involuntary roar as he furiously battered his acoustic guitar.

It might sound like this wasn’t the most personal of performances: Villagers spent the most of the set with their eyes closed, listening intently and performing intensely. But it was far more personal than watching a front man who tries to wheedle laughs out of his crowd or urges them to sing along. He was a quiet and masterful storyteller, almost whispering his way through Twenty-Seven Strangers. The audience, of all ages, leaned in collectively and remained silent apart from an appreciative cheer at the beginning and end of songs. It wasn’t a set you sang along to. Instead, O’Brien’s crowd gazed slack-jawed and spellbound as he sung one of his very promising new songs, “I want to occupy your mind.”

The song felt like rock posing as folk, O’Brien resembling a scrawny Jim Morrison. There was the same disintegration from an ordered sound to a blitz of noise haphazardly fired from the stage. As the song disintegrated, so did Conor, crying and shouting amongst the din.

Then, the band finished and O’Brien quietly applauded the audience for the support with more mumbled thanks.

By Zander Sharp