Villagers at the Olympia Theatre – Review and Photos
Ivor Novello Awards, Mercury Prize nominations, Choice Music Prize wins. The last few years have been kind to Conor O’Brien, the diminutive, humble and thoroughly likable mastermind behind Villagers and their three stunning albums. International success is all well and good, but as O’Brien mentions to the crowd early on in his Olympia set, ‘it’s good to be home’. The seated, attentive crowd were treated to a masterclass in subtle beauty as Villagers kicked off the Irish leg of their tour in style.
The tour is, of course, in support of the band’s latest album Darling Arithmetic and a number of tracks from that album received an airing throughout the course of the evening. The title track opened proceedings and ‘Dawning On Me’ made an early appearance. ‘The Soul Serene’ also received a fantastic reception later in the set. The stripped back set up of keys, harp, double bass and a drummer double-jobbing on trumpet also allowed O’Brien to play around with the arrangements of some of his back catalogue. This proved very effective on the likes of ‘Nothing Arrived’ and a version of ‘That Day’ that was complimented by pleasing trumpet licks.
O’Brien’s vocal ability is most impressive. His delicate tones belie a powerful voice that can carry notes long after they have any right to hang in the ether. He also used that voice to very gently urge those present to vote ‘for equality’ in Friday’s referendum. His subtle speech earned sustained applause and if there were any shy no voters in the crowd then they will surely have been swayed by the achingly beautiful ‘Hot Scary Summer’ and the powerful ‘Little Bigot’ – a pair of thought provoking songs about equality and homophobia that followed O’Brien’s gentle pleas.
A suitably crashing version of ‘The Waves’ resulted in the first standing ovation of the night as the rest of the band left the stage. After the crowd took their seats, O’Brien delivered a solo rendition of ‘Ship of Promises’ to close out the main set. He reemerged on his own and asked for the crowd’s assistance on the next song but only on the chorus because only super-fans would know the words of the verses too. Evidently there were a great deal of super-fans in the crowd, as a sizable portion of them sung every word of ‘Becoming a Jackal’ back at a delighted looking O’Brien, who complimented the crowd on their vocal abilities afterwards. As crowd singalongs go, it was certainly one of the better ones.
The rest of the band returned for ‘Pieces’ before ‘Courage’ drew proceedings to a close and the crowd once again took to their feet in prolonged applause. O’Brien graciously and modestly accepted an ovation that was richly deserved after a truly triumphant homecoming.
Review by Mark O’Brien
Photos by Tara Stanhope