This Villagers article was written by Eva Hibbs, a GIGsoup contributor
‘I’d much rather meet you all than sell you crap,’ says Villagers supporter Aidan Knight, ‘but needs must.’ If there’s anything Aidan is, it’s Canadian. No, sorry. Earnest. If there’s anything Aidan is, it’s earnest. He sings about real things. The narrative of his songs is easy to follow, to connect to. He sings from the silky lining of his gut, strums an electric guitar like it’s the world’s most obvious thing to do. He leads us through his most recent album, ‘Each Other’, but it’s track ‘Margaret Downe’, with Coen-like particularisation, that hangs us on his every bar. A celebrated ‘experimenter’, it would have been nice to hear riffs a little more ruffled up.
In the break, true fans characteristically hold their pee and squirm towards the barrier. ‘I’ve been waiting to see these guys for years,’ says the woman behind me. (Perhaps I’m unjustifiably tall, I think.) There’s definitely something intriguing about the Villagers – I can empathise with a sense of urgency to demystify them. The band roll on with breezy smiles and, given their latest, meditative release, already they’re surprising. The four-piece open with ‘Memoir’ which allows all fingers to warm up on respective strings and sticks. Originally written for Charlotte Gainsbourg by front man Conor O’Brien, Villagers take back his gift. From the outset, they convey confident melodies and sincerity.
Drummer doubles up on trumpet, harpist on keyboard. It’s difficult to find what’s not on the agenda of these guys. The second track they play – ’So Naïve’ – is quietly inspiring. Conor sings, ‘I believe I’m part of something bigger’, Luckily, this kind of introspection is never forced. The implied invocation of I believe I’m part of something bigger, do you? lingers as Conor’s voice and the trumpet find one another in elongated notes. There’s a sense of coalescence, that with patience, comes unity… And he calls Oxford an intense crowd, pah!
‘Dawning on Me’ showcases Conor’s clarity of tone. Pulling away from the mic, Villagers extend their net; we, too, are coming to an understanding. But they’re not just showing what they have, they’re clearly having fun. The close to this and the next number, atmospheric ‘I Saw the Dead’, end in jovial awkwardness with an extra guitar strum, or a shrug. So reliable is Villagers talent, they don’t need to take themselves too seriously to do a good job. They run beats through us with ‘Awayland’s’ ‘Nothing Arrived’, so we look like we’re stylishly dodging raindrops. But, Villagers hold something back – clip notes, tease – they keep us contained. They welcome us to the ‘soul serene’; it’s not until ‘Hot Scary Summer’ that the world they portray is wronged, fraught. For these Dubliners, it really does seem that ‘Love Is All’. We crescendo to this refrain, looking to the people at our sides and smiling, but also, think of those that aren’t here, and why. This folk prompts reactions inwardly and outwardly, intellectually (as with environmentalist ‘The Waves’) and emotionally.
Though a comparatively ‘quiet’ crowd, it’s no surprise to see Villagers cheered back on. Their tripartite encore finishes with a stand-out track from ‘Darling Arithmetic’. ’Courage’ seems to typify this band. There’s a modesty, a quiet confidence, to what they’re doing. They genuinely are in harmony with something other than their ego.
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