Live music review: Villagers

Cork Opera House

*****

A moment in time like no other was captured with undisguised triumphalism by Conor O’Brien who eschewed his weedy shoe-gazer persona for a fist-clenching entrance and the single word declaration, Yes!

“I love you. Today I found out you love me too. Now I’m going to depress the f**k out of you.”

That was as good an intro as any from a writer whose lyrics flirted as much with death as love since the debut album landed five years ago.

Musically, the gig was superb. Opener, ‘Set the Tigers Free’ which is now a much richer, more nuanced, affair than when first released. Next up was ‘Dawning’ from the new album, Darling Arithmetic, an achingly beautiful love song that could in time find itself covered by many artists.

‘Waves’, which seemed electronically hidebound on the Awayland album was fleshed out with terrific tribal drum and again the song found new depths live.

Even the new material was being reinterpreted live rather than rendered faithfully to the recordings. And while the new album is at times archly stylised to a kind of learner guitar sound it is so much more muscular live, helped no end by harp, trumpet, drums and backing vocals. And the sweetly voiced among the full house responded nicely to the invitation to sing harmony on the lead man’s brilliant solo version of their first hit, ‘Becoming a Jackal’.

For those of us who know nothing about the band but the music, O’Brien put his sexuality very much centre stage here, almost every song now resonating of the referendum, not least the centrepiece of the night — a pummeling showstopper blast through ‘Little Bigots’ with the Morrisseyesque invitation to throw your hatred on the fire.

It is doubtful a Villagers set will ever again play so polemically but for this particular Eurovision night it was a douze points.

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