Gig review: Villagers


ON LAST year's Mercury-nominated debut album, Becoming a Jackal, Villagers was the nom de plume of young Dun Laoghaire-born singer-songwriter Conor J O'Brien. In a live context, it can also include his four bandmates, on keyboards, electric guitar, bass and drums. Initially, though, O'Brien settled the crowd by taking the stage solo, delivering the first few half-whimsical, half-menacing lines of Cecilia and Her Selfhood a cappella, before adding sparse acoustic guitar to his archly confiding vocals.

While the rest of the line-up subsequently expanded the sonic palette to sometimes anthemic dimensions, its core elements – O'Brien's potent, wishful/wistful tenor, edged with a febrile quaver, plus memorable melodies and cryptic, Gothic-hued lyrics – were fixed from the outset.

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Besides that Mercury shortlisting, these qualities last week won O'Brien an Ivor Novello for the album's deceptively sunny, Merseybeat-tinged title track, named Best Song Musically and Lyrically by fellow songwriters.

Despite his tender years, such praise seemed in no way premature on the strength of this meticulously constructed set, of which an early highlight was the steadily mounting, finally all-out anguish of Pieces, while others included The Meaning of Ritual, a brooding blend of bile and regret; the snarling, bare-knuckle attack of Don't, Under the Sea, and the bittersweet breeziness of new single The Pact (I'll Be Your Fever).