Villagers at The Olympia


Villagers at The Olympia Theatre, Dublin – 21/03/13

Two albums into their critically (and somewhat commercially) acclaimed career, Conor O’Brien and his band of Villagers make a welcome return to Dublin for the first of two sold-out shows in the Olympia Theatre. The last time this reviewer witnessed Villagers live, they were supporting Elbow in Belfast. That was two years ago. They were good, but it was a little difficult to imagine them holding their own as a headliner act. How very wrong we were.

Tonight’s set touches on perfection. It shifts in both size and style, in texture and tone. A spectrum of scale across a 19 song set. We have the absolute minimalism of O’Brien armed with just his acoustic guitar, but then we also have the full frontal assault of a five piece band. Moving between the end-points of the scale so is effortless that it never feels like we’re watching two different acts.

Opening duo of My Lighthouse and Home have the chill-inducing fragility to silence the room. An audience so respectful of an artist is a rare delight and if you closed your eyes you’d swear Villagers were the only souls present in the venue.

Passing a Message is the first jagged addition to the set, and it hints at the angular, aggressive side that Villagers have picked up with their latest record. You can see an animated O’Brien’s vocal delivery change from one softly spoken to one that hints at malicious intent. The very same can be said for The Bell, with its cryptic piano stabs. The entire band have become more vigorous than expected, flailing around the stage as they batter their respective instruments into submission. The Bell ends with a chasm of artificial reverb that engulfs the band before a vacuum of silence followed by roaring applause.

Album highlight Earthy Pleasure has so many gear shifts that it really shouldn’t work live but {Awayland}’s most produced track comes across as effortless. The same can’t be said however for The Waves. Less than a minute into the song and it’s the laptop that is at fault. An on-the-ball O’Brien drags the track to halt, insisting they take it from the top. When it does all come together his perfectionism pays off. All five Villagers go a little berserk as they follow the laptop’s morse code-esque lead line. O’Brien in particular jaunts around the stage, dragging with him a reluctant microphone stand. All the while strobe lights bring things to fever pitch as the the song reaches it’s climactic close.

Encore song, That Day gives us a another moment to catch our breath as a solo O’Brien returns to the stage with just his faithful guitar. The fragile delivery sits beautifully with a silenced Olympia as O’Brien plays to a respectful wall of silence. “Thank you for making this so awesome, we’re home finally”, says O’Brien with humility and wide eyed admiration for the following him and his fellow Villagers have built.

With {Awayland}, they’ve given us a contender for album of the year and tonight we certainly have a contender for gig of the year. Their passion, conviction, dedication to artistic integrity and perfectionism have accumulated into a very special Olympia show. With just two albums they have created a show with enough scope to entertain far beyond their 90 minute set. As one of the brightest beacons of Irish music, we can look to the future with the same wide eyed awe as O’Brien as we try anticipate Villagers next move.

Villagers Photo Gallery

Photos: Kieran Frost