LIVE: Villagers with Amidships

villagers0 villagers3 villagers4 villagers7 villagers8It’s a rare opportunity not often stumbled upon to witness a crowded venue reduced to silence and held firmly in awe of a performance. Even more uncommon is when said experience occurs barely 30 seconds in to the set. Villagers take us on a journey through eerie stillness, chaotic dissonance all while keeping the crowd entirely captivated with every slight nuance and breath. Touring in support of their second Mercury Prize nominated album {Awayland}, Villagers provide us with an expressive showcase of sheer brilliance in every aspect.

Local Atmospheric Folk-Rock Quartet Amidships open with a pleasing display that should rest well within the musical palette of most attending, opening with the playful vocal harmonies of Answers. Front man JP McCorley wastes few words in introducing the group and instead allows our impressions to be moulded by the hands of their music, growing in intensity and depth with each song. Their spacey atmospheric ambience fills the venue well and is visually complemented by the band’s lack of inhibition on-stage. As their set moves on, different stylistic elements are showcased ranging from the washy reverb-soaked harmonies of Bombay Bicycle Club and listlessness of Band of Horses later developing into the hardnosed alt rock characteristics akin to Manchester Orchestra. Their Penultimate song Parachutes disintegrates into an expressive onslaught texturally comparable to that of post-rock territory. A few more words are spoken and the band wraps things up with A Friend.

A short Instrumental Interlude acts as cue and Villagers arrange themselves on stage with no reference to theatrics. They open with the delicate My Lighthouse, featuring vocal harmonies that immediately rendered the entire venue speechless. The purity and expression with which vocalist & songwriter Conor O’Brien performs needs to be witnessed to be believed. Perhaps most striking is his presence on stage; his ease borders on indifference, until the crowd is first addressed.

They overcome a technical fault with an impromptu performance of what O’Brien dubs “The greatest song ever written, in G”; WHAM!’s Last Christmas, to which the rest of the band ad lib to rehearsed standard as O’Brien second guesses the lyrics and prompts crowd participation. Needless to say, they absolutely nailed it.

The performance continues & during the moments in between O’Brien’s personality illuminates the crowd with banter typically characteristic of a scruffy twenty-something Dubliner, going as far as to dedicate Memoir to Black Sabbath (just so happening to be performing locally) and dubbing it “The song they wish they had written”.

The group’s ability to paint a picture that changes in texture and tonality as the arrangements develop is second to none, and when coupled with O’Brien’s lyrical prowess characterizes the experience as an impressive showcase of artistic expression. Their rendition of The Bell grows in urgency to breaking point where O’Brien opens an assault upon a snare drum to bring the unrelenting passage to a close, and during Waves he trades the parlor acoustic for a shaker & through use of extended microphone technique has no shortage of textural tricks up his sleeve.

Through boundless talent and a knack for combining traditional folk with aspects experimental electronic music, Villagers have developed their own arsenal of musical elements, which when utilized as seamlessly with as much expression as they do, renders them a band impossible to pigeonhole. The only thing that surpasses the impressiveness of their music is how well it is executed in the live context. Jamie Wright, GiggingNI.com