Villagers could end up becoming everyone’s new favourite band. But I think first they (or he, as they’re really the musical framework around one Conor O’Brien) need to work out just what kind of band they are. I heard echoes of Conor Oberst, Bell x1, Mumford & Sons, Damien Rice, early Radiohead (thanks Nadine), Scott Walker and many more. I think O’Brien is a really talented musician who clearly draws his influences from the widest pop-rock canvas and could probably turn his hand to just about any style of song. What makes him that bit more special is that he is a talented lyricist too – clever turns of phrase, a real clarity of language, and stories that draw you in but don’t feel too forced. And as a vocalist he has an impressive range, lots of drama, and a way of enunciating his words precisely that keeps you listening.
The first half of tonight’s gig was top notch. I really like the title track from the album, Becoming A Jackal. It reminds me a bit of Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat – it’s probably some major seventh chords or something, but it’s damn catchy. And the gentle folk of To Be Counted Among Men, solo acoustic guitar with subtle piano fills, struck a well balanced contrast with some of the high energy noisier moments. Things dipped a little then for me, with a few songs that didn’t quite hang together as well, or didn’t have quite enough weight to them.
(By the way, in implying above that the band are just a vehicle for Conor O’Brien and his songs, I didn’t mean to detract in any way from the other four guys. They did a fine job – and seemed to be having a good time too, which isn’t always the case with singer-songwriter led bands. Some fairly complex rhythms from the drummer and chaps on keys and electric guitar added some nice backing vocals too.)
Villagers played in the small room at the Paradiso tonight. I’d like to think I might have the chance to see them again in a couple of years in the big room; by then it might be a little clearer what kind of band they are. It’s not that they need to be pigeon-holed or conveniently tagged as “the new X” – it’s just that one was left with an odd feeling at the end of not being sure what kind of gig it was. A good one for sure though. And that’s the main thing.