Review by Maurice Beardsley

I didn’t know what to fully expect before Villagers took to the stage last Wednesday. Not only was this my first visit to Manchester’s hippest new venue – Gorilla, my exposure to the band had merely consisted of a few radio friendly singles and a distant memory of a ‘Later…’ performance a few years back.

As I gradually watched the sold-out venue reach capacity, pebble dashed with beards, I was reluctant to let my restless mind descend into idle scepticism. This show was to fall on fresh ears and I was intent to erase any kind of indie-folk-rock preconceptions gnawing at my mind and let the music take its place.

The band kicked off proceedings with a sublime rendition of ‘Grateful Song’. It was immediately clear to see that the five lads could really play. Lead singer Conor O’Brien’s delicate voice made way for swathes of shimmering guitars and drums followed by groove driven beats that culminated in a euphoric chorus. The intricacy of the arrangement was to set the pace for much of what was to follow in the rich, well-structured 20-song set.

Testament to the bands experience and depth of material, after similarly rousing renditions of ‘Judgement Call’ and ‘The Bell’, Villagers exerted emotional control over the audience with a heartbreaking version of ‘My Lighthouse’. O’Brien’s opening line “You are needing a friend” was to create an awed hush inside the room, as if he was speaking directly to each and every one of his devotees. The song itself was awash with impeccable vocal harmony.

O’Brien is certainly at ease with what he does.  Although diminutive in appearance (he is also more or less mute between songs) any attention to be paid to his coy nature should be left by the wayside, as he is more than happy for the songs to take precedence. A shout out to Becky Unthank half way through the set was to say as much about the quality of his music as the company he keeps. He knows his craft. The real strength of Villagers, however, lies in the collective themselves. I was stood before a band with self-confidence, maturity and dare I say it in Manchester, swagger.

The almost Mexican sounding ‘The Pact’ was followed by the fresh electronica of ‘The Waves’ to add to an eclectic set which took the attentive audience on an excursion through the bands diverse back catalogue. The encore included an angelic version of ‘In A Newfound Land You Are Free’, a sparse acoustic number embellished with delicate piano and a raucously energetic finale of ‘Ship Of Promises’.

By the end of the gig I was to get the impression O’Brien could effortlessly write an albums worth of tracks like the crowd pleasing single ‘Nothing Arrived’ and pander to the masses but this would do nothing to feed the creative urges of the band. That’s not to say that the song doesn’t have its place in the Villagers rulebook, it’s just one small part of a much larger whole. They are band that have all the ingredients to keep on growing and expanding their sound but I would hate to see them swept away in the pitfalls of potential major label mediocrity, as their renown is sure to increase. For now though, at least for me, that was a job well done. 

Villagers performed at Gorilla on Wednesday 13th February 2013. Their latest album ‘{Awayland}’ was released in Januray via Domino Records.  

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