Villagers came to Liverpool and weaved intricate tales of light and shadow, Getintothis’ Alan O’Hare found solace within the pages of their storybook.
You can usually trace the influences and inspirations of an artist on a musical road map.
But the sound made by Villagers, led by a force of nature from Ireland named Conor O’Brien, doesn’t appear on any map. Their music comes from Area 51.
This startlingly original five-piece make a racquet quite unlike anything you have ever encountered before from a guitar/bass/drums/keyboards combo. Think you’ve heard it all from ‘meat and spuds’ guitar bands? Think again.
Twice-nominated for the Mercury Prize, Villagers took off in 2010 and haven’t come back down to Earth since.
Debut album Becoming A Jackal impressed with its folk-based palette and incisive song writing, while second record [Awayland] added colour to the canvas, with washes of electronica and ethereal harmonies from both voices and guitars.
How does it all come across live? Beautifully. Villagers are that rare beast of a modern day band: they actually sound better on stage, than in the studio.
The stacked harmonies never waiver, the electric guitar uses volume and finesse with a deftness of touch and the rhythm section… well, they just rock!
The bass (both guitar and drum) sounds like thunder and the tempos reach crescendos and drop to silence on a shrug of O’Brien’s diminutive shoulders. It really is a special thing to witness in person.
Villagers’ Cormac Curran at East Village Arts Club, Liverpool
Keyboard player Cormac Curran is the group’s secret weapon though: his piano melodies are sublime, his single notes jump out when they need to and, when he switches to organ, his rolling sound dominates the songs. The weird noises coming from his mini Korg are a treat too.
Playing nearly everything from their latest album, Villagers are in Liverpool to start a celebratory end of year tour around the UK and Ireland.
The East Village Arts Club is busy (if not buzzing on a cold Sunday night) and the group open with an almost acapella take on the Fleet Foxes-esque My Lighthouse from [Awayland].
It’s not a sign of things to come, however. The band come to life and play hard on stunning takes of Set the Tigers Free, Passing A Message, The Bell and Becoming A Jackal, mixing the more durable songs from the first record with the more edgier tunes of its successful follow up.
Villagers’ live transformation into a metallic proposition is startling the first time you witness it (earlier this year in a small club, just after [Awayland] was released, Getintothis was left a little flat following an onslaught that neglected the finer points and shades of O’Brien’s tunes), but two years’ constant touring has turned them into one of the best live bands around.
In fact, they might just be the best. They do it all: meticulously crafted delicate laments (Twenty Seven Strangers), throbbing electro-gristle rockers (Earthly Pleasures) and gorgeous pop songs from the R.E.M. school of melodic perfection (Nothing Arrived, The Pact).
Villagers’ Conor O’Brien at East Village Arts Club, Liverpool
“You’re not allowed to film this,” said O’Brien as the band launched into new songs: I Just Want To Occupy Your Mind sounded like an electronic current, sent from Marc Bolan (via Goldfrapp) to space, while set closer Hot Scary Summer was devastating.
Attaching raw lyrics concerning the beginning of a relationship, the feeling of wanting to inhabit someone and have them inhabit you and a cautionary word on homophobia, to a strummed melody, say, Paul Simon would kill for, O’Brien may have just revealed the centrepiece of his next record.
Whatever, the fact remains that this was a gig that had it all and the Ivor Novello-winning tunesmith’s songs of noise, confusion, truth and beauty provided shelter from the storm on a Sunday night on Seel Street. The verdict on Villagers’ 2013 is in: unflinching.
Roll on the next move.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Gaz Jones.
Further reading on Getintothis:
Villagers: Gorilla, Manchester
Liverpool Music Week presents Villagers: The Kazimier, Liverpool
Elbow, Villagers: ECHO Arena, Liverpool