Villagers have set themselves a high bar to try and top for best Cork show. A midnight gig at St Luke’s Church last September is perhaps only eclipsed by their Cork Opera House ‘moment’ the night the marriage-equality referendum was passed last May. If one could have bottled the sheer emotions and exuberance of Conor O’Brien that day then we’d never come down.
So no pressure on the singer and friends at the sold-out Everyman Theatre on Sunday night, the first date of a five-week Irish and EU tour.
The gig was supposed to be held in the Savoy, but after that venue shut up shop, the Everyman stepped in. “This is much better than the Savoy,” O’Brien announces after the jazzy opener ‘Memoir’, the start of a 90-minute, 19-song set that never sees the audience’s gaze drift from the enchanting frontman.
He’s engaging, genial, and funny. After a revelatory ‘Set the Tigers Free’, his guitar accidentally brushes his mic. “That’s the problem with Villagers shows,” he says to growing sniggers, “You can’t even fart.”
We get all of Where Have You Been All My Life?, the new live album of ‘reimaginings’ of previously-released tracks, and a few unexpected oldies too: The trio of ‘I Saw The Dead’. ‘The Pact’, and the unrecognisable ‘Nothing Arrived’ reach us like old friends, the former in particular, with added harp and horn, is stupendously transformed.
It’s an interesting idea, revisiting your older tracks and reworking them; one wonders are even the current iterations safe or will O’Brien return to them in five years and change them again?
O’Brien knows how special the show last May was, telling us that playing ‘Hot Scary Summer’ at the Opera House was one of the best moments of his life.
The memories don’t detract from this show, however — the teary ‘27 Strangers’, ‘The Waves’, and the Glen Campbell cover ‘Witchita Lineman’ are sumptuous, with the five-piece Villagers never less than captivating. We don’t get ‘Becoming a Jackal’ but as the dapper O’Brien holds the note in ‘So Naive’, ponders “Can you hear me now?” on ‘That Day’, and bares all on closer ‘Courage’, we don’t even miss it.
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