A Sunday night out in Dundalk with Villagers
Here’s where it begins again. At the weekend, Villagers played two low-key, warm-ups shows in Limerick and Dundalk ahead of a run of festival shows in the coming months (including an appearance at Body & Soul next weekend). Later in …
Here’s where it begins again. At the weekend, Villagers played two low-key, warm-ups shows in Limerick and Dundalk ahead of a run of festival shows in the coming months (including an appearance at Body & Soul next weekend). Later in the year, there will be a new single ahead of the release of the second album in early 2013 and more live shows. After the heroics and successes of “Becoming A Jackal”, Conor O’Brien and his cohorts return to work once again. Time for the cycle to resume.
What we got for the drive up the motorway to Dundalk’s lovely Spirit Store last night was a set of 16 songs with 11 which didn’t feature on that starry debut album which put Villagers on the map back in 2010. A couple of those 11 non-”Jackal” tracks will be familiar to longtime Villagers’ watchers from previous live shows, but the majority were new and will more than likely feature on that album, the bones of which were recorded over the winter in Tommy McLaughlin’s gaff in the wilds of Donegal.
It’s always fascinating to catch a band at this early stage in a new cycle as they come to grips with how songs which sounded one way in studios and empty rooms change often dramatically when there’s an audience in front of them. The audience too are worth noting, especially to see if a set of new ones causes them to shift in their seats or watch on attentively.
They open with “Newfoundland” and “My Lighthouse”, two tender, subtle, neatly paced slivers which, like “Awayland” a little later in the set, crackle with quiet drama and Talk Talk-esque atmospheric rubs. “Rhythm Composer”, “Grateful Song” and “Nothing Arrived” are from the other side of the Villagers’ tracks, those tunes which you can imagine getting a lot of radio love from those who value O’Brien’s winning way with words and strong, vibrant, infectious melodies. Indeed, “Nothing Arrived” sounds like it’s channelling Bruce Springsteen in places.
But it’s the four non-”Jackal” tracks which come later in the set which indicate that album number two will come with considerable stealth and steam under the bonnet. Introduced by O’Brien as “a song about evolution and people who don’t believe in evolution”, you can imagine newbie “Passing A Message” weaving its way into many people’s affections in the coming months with its bright, superbly oiled hooks and lines which will only get stronger with more live outings. “Earthly Pleasure” is a sign of where O’Brien’s songwriting smarts are taking him, a song full of interesting wordplays and penpictures, where characters are “speaking Esperanto and drinking ginger tea” against a sinewy backdrop.
“The Bell” has been around Villagers’ sets for some time, but it has never sounded as tough, layered and harmonically hypnotic as it does on this occasion. Both it and closing song “The Waves” are examples of a new-found use of warm textures and soft-shoed electronic pulses in the camp, adding a new level of depth to the grand parade of O’Brien’s songs. Those songs have always packed a punch, but it already strikes you that we’re moving to a whole new musical level next time out.
They end their night out in the wee county with “Ship Of Promises”, attacking that debut album standard with new gusto and stout, thumping intent. It ends up sounding far meatier and jucier than it has done before, a sign of a band approaching their work with a new strain of vigour. Watching the band bed new tracks (“Beatitudes” featured in the encore) into the set and weave a new narrative alongside old favourites is going to be fascinating to observe. On the basis of this early days snapshot, album number two is definitely something to look forward to.