AS Laura Marling proved in front of a couple of thousand fans last week, there is no need for an accomplished singer/songwriter to shout or declaim in order to get their point across.
Conor O’Brien, leading light of Villagers, is certainly a thoughtful writer, operating at a similar pop/folk crossroads, but his ability to engage across an entire set is not as finely honed as the delicate arrangements for harp, keyboards and upright bass which made this gig a pleasant but only rarely compelling experience.
The title track of new album Darling Arithmetic set a downbeat tone which prevailed for much of the sedate set. The more expansive sound and trancey keyboards of lonesome country-tinged ballad Set the Tigers Free provided an early atmospheric fix before the reverie was rudely punctured by the brief squeal of feedback – a rare note out of place.
But Villagers’ charms are so subtle and stealthy as to be virtually inert at points. After a while, the set was crying out for the simple dynamics of the breezier, pacier Memoir.
Of the new songs, the quiet ache of Hot, Scary Summer, introduced by O’Brien as “about love…and bigotry”, stood out as a song worth leaning in to hear but in the end the trajectory of the performance was pretty predictable, with the band finally building up a head of steam on The Waves before O’Brien lulled the crowd with a solo acoustic encore of Becoming a Jackal.