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

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

Oran Mor, Glasgow, Mon 6 Dec 2010

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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