Villagers - Conor J. O’Brien and co imbue eerily poetic songs with brooding intensity (4 stars)

Oran Mor, Glasgow, Mon 6 Dec 2010

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Villagers - Conor J. O’Brien and co imbue eerily poetic songs with brooding intensity

We got both Villager and Villagers at this show, the moniker serving both as the solo alias of Dublin singer/ songwriter Conor J. O’Brien and as the collective title for his band. They were contrasting experiences that complemented each other well, and underscored why a Mercury Prize shortlisting for he/their debut album Becoming a Jackal earlier this year was well-earned.

Opening the set unaccompanied, the big-eyed and severe of black bowl-cut O’Brien imbued his eerily poetic songs – performed with spare precision on acoustic guitar – with brooding intensity by staring out the audience with his fixed glare. Things relaxed a bit once his four backing musicians arrived, displaying a sage sense of when to exercise restraint in their textured playing – the dual-piano arpeggios of ‘I Saw the Dead’ being a good example – and when to layer the atmospherics on thick. The striking title track of Villagers’ LP was given added kick Radiohead-style live, though the best song of the night arrived when O’Brien was on his own again for ‘Twenty Seven Strangers’, a heavy-hearted hymn casting him as an Irish Elliott Smith.

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