It is a drab, overcast evening in Glasgow. Fortunately, the weather is the only thing tainted with mediocrity tonight. By 8pm, the downstairs bar in King Tut’s is already crackling with eager anticipation. When Simon Doherty takes to the stage alone, he splits the hubbub of the crowd with his exquisite guitar work and effortlessly enthralling crooning, instantly captivating the attention of everyone assembled.
Once the applause fades, bassist Nicholas Blythe joins him on stage to provide both deft accompaniment and delicate vocal harmony. The pair go on to enchant the audience with a number of intriguing songs that do justice to the intense, and often downright dark, themes they deal with. In short, Doherty’s impressive performance is difficult to criticise and is characterised by an endearing sense of genuineness and humility. While announcing the last song, Doherty latches on to some banter with the front few rows to speculate that headliners Villagers will end up “as big as AC/DC”.
It’s a good sign when you’re at a gig and a stranger feels moved to tell you how the band you’re about to see filled him with excitement after a single short, televised acoustic performance. Villagers frontman and creative engine room Conor J. O’Brien recently performed solo on Later Live with Jools Holland.
It seems that in doing so he managed to whet the musical appetite of not just Rob, the aforementioned enthusiast but the entire British public. Space in Tut’s becomes a truly scarce commodity as Glasgow anxiously awaits the arrival of the self-styled ‘alt-rock hobbits’ from the Emerald Isle.
A wistful, ambient chord spills out on the keys and ripples overhead as Villagers take to the stage. Honesty and angst are the two words that immediately spring to mind as the smart lyrics, spectral chanting and ethereal echo effects build to a raucous, howling crescendo as ‘The Meaning of the Ritual’ sends the crowd into raptures.The tone changes immediately as the heartfelt plea for unity that is ‘Home‘ rings out next with soulful yearning. The audience are then skilfully brought back to the boil with what is arguably the Dublin five-piece’s most recognisable tune, ‘Become a Jackal‘. Receiving a good few knowing cheers as the first chord sounds, the pulsating drumbeat perfectly reflects the song’s brazen and boisterous message.
Throughout the entire set, O’Brien revels in the praise of the crowd. He has a coy swagger and an endearing, youthful cheekiness about him. He is the beating heart of the band but his imposing personality neither dominates the overall output nor works to its detriment. Villagers are not afraid of being deliberately understated or subtle. The gorgeous, elegant keys in ‘To be Counted Among Men‘ command absolute silence from the crowd. They are equally capable of pounding out stout, rough-edged sounds.
The band’s versatility is perhaps no more evident than in ‘Pieces‘. Intricate keys and tender vocals explode into an almighty climax of unashamed muscle-flexing on the electric guitar and frenzied percussion. Villagers are impressively tight on the live stage and their charm is bolstered ten-fold by the sense of camaraderie they effortlessly exude. The acapella interlude in the final song of the encore, ‘On a Sunlit Stage‘, is the perfect example of their glorious unity.
Based on this performance, it is little wonder that the excitement surrounding them is so great.
Their debut album Becoming a Jackal was released on May 24th via Domino Records.
Words: Neale McDonald
Pics: Russell Forrester