Villagers Conor O’Brien has always been more than just another tired romantic singer songwriter. His wry wit and portentous lyricism mean that he’s not just another crooning adolescent singing about love: O’Brien weaves tales about Jackals, death and murderous statues whilst breaking any illusion of a fairytale ending with his haunting falsetto voice. However, Becoming A Jackal has, in my eyes, always fallen just short of spectacular, I could never quite put my finger on why and after this evening there is no need – Villagers are quite simply breathtaking live.
Warming the crowd up on this chilly October evening is Cate Le Bon, whose sultry welsh-tinged vocals wrap around sparse pop melodies that have been kicked up a notch for their stage show. Le Bon’s ethereal voice is punctuated by crisp electric guitars amidst infectious harmonies and synths on crowd favourites ‘Me Oh My’ and ‘Sad Sad Feet.’
As the night draws on, the room at the Scala begins to fill out in anticipation of tonight’s headliners and as the hour is finally upon us I could swear that the woman behind me swooned. Opening with the lesser known ‘New Found Land’ O’Brien steps out on stage alone, his small frame and earnest gaze endearing him at once to a crowd that have been jostling for the past few hours and are now perfectly still. His quivering, crisp vocals ring out over the crowds’ muted hums that seem to escape their lips even though they would rather not obscure O’Brien’s himself.
Still on his own, the young singer gently strums the opening chords to album highlight ‘Twenty Seven Strangers’ accompanied by a trembling bottom lip and a soft, sweeping Jackal howl. ‘To Be Counted’ and ‘The Meaning of a Ritual’ are performed as a two-piece; the accompanying instrumentals gently swelling beneath honest and distinctly enunciated, brooding lyrics: “My love is selfish/And I bet that yours is too.”
Finally joined on stage by a full band the eerie stillness in the room melts away as the walking bass line and thundering percussion on ‘Home’ are much louder and domineering than on record. Playing through Becoming A Jackal in its entirety, the atmosphere tonight rises from a quiet, nervous disposition of softly strummed acoustic guitars to an urgent and fervent wall of pounding drums and howling vocals. For all its infectious building bass lines and roaring vocals on record, ‘Ship of Promises’ was as delicate and beautiful as ‘Pieces,’ as the band left the stage leaving O’Brien once again on his own.
Returning for an encore that included new song ‘Memoirs’, O’Brien and co’s performance this evening breathed new life into their recorded efforts so much so that I have had it stuck on repeat ever since.
Photos by Sonny Malhotra