Villagers @ Gorilla

-GORILLA, MANCHESTER-

Gorilla seems to be the place I go to watch Villagers. Tonight’s gig is their third time there and it’ll be the third time I’ve seen them there, without seeing them anywhere else in the meantime. My journey to the venue takes me passed Manchester Arena, where U2 are preparing to play a sold out show, then passed The Albert Hall, where Beach House are about to play a sold out show, then passed The Ritz, where Idles are getting ready to play a sold out show, before reaching Gorilla, which is sold out.

The band climb the steps up to the stage, dressed all in black with the exception of frontman and Villager in chief Conor O’Brien’s pink jacket. They begin with ‘Sweet Saviour’ from their latest album The Art of Pretending to Swim, released just last month. On completion of the song, following the warm applause, O’Brien comments “It’s very early isn’t it. I’ve only had one glass of wine”. It is relatively early for a headline set, thanks to a club night taking place at Gorilla following the show the performance began bang on the scheduled 8:20PM.

Another song from the new album is up next, ‘Again’, the album’s opener. My eyes are drawn to a table full of little electronic boxes and synths to the right of the stage as I notice the backing vocals are sampled and coming from there, it is a staggering array of equipment. Maybe a clue into how the band deliver so many little details with just five members on stage. The increased volume bringing the song to a close jolts the crowd into life a little and the applause is louder now. That doesn’t change the fact that eyes remain locked on stage and ears attentive as the set continues with ‘Fool’, another from the new album.

In the next break between songs, O’Brien takes the opportunity to introduce the members of the band and lets us know, “There’s a lot of new songs. We’re basically gonna play all the new album”. Then, true to his word, we get another from the new album, ‘Love Came With All That It Brings’. The first cheer of the night comes at the start of the next track, ‘Hot Scary Summer’ from 2015 album Darling Arithmetic. I can’t be certain if it was a simple cheer of recognition, but it is a song I was looking forward to hearing. Not to take anything away from how well written these songs are at a basic guitar and lyric level, the subtle nuance and thundering crescendos of the arrangements are spot on and really elevate the emotions.

We continue with another three new songs, ‘A Trick of the Light’, ‘Long Time Waiting’ and ‘Real Go-Getter’. There is an undeniable aesthetic to a Villagers song, but enough variance to make each one interesting – that’s something that you very rarely see a band achieve, especially as it continues to be the case after four studio albums.

The time arrives for ‘Becoming A Jackal’. It’s the song that won O’Brien an Ivor Novello award back in 2011 for ‘Best Song Musically and Lyrically’ and it’s the song that hooked me in the year before when I first heard it following the debut album of the same name’s Mercury Prize nomination. It gets the biggest ovation of the night and a mass sing-along. The point in the song where the energy is sucked out and we’re left with the lyrics asking “So before you take this song as truth, you should wonder what I’m taking from you, how I benefit from you being here, lending me your ears, while I’m selling you my fears?” is one of my favourite moments of any song. Eight years on from that first exposure, it still gets me every time I hear it. After the applause dies down, O’Brien comments, “this is only our third gig, but you have to agree the band is shit hot”. He’s right, I do have to agree. They follow up with another from that debut album, ‘I Saw The Dead’.

‘Memoir’, a song about prostitution that O’Brien had originally written for Charlotte Gainsbourg and another from the latest album, ‘Ada’, bring the main set to a close. The band depart, but less than a minute later they’re back. They play ‘Hold Me Down’, to realise the promise made earlier of playing every song from the new album , before finishing with ‘Courage’ from Darling Arithmetic and ‘Nothing Arrived’ from 2013 album {Awayland}. As they take their final bow, the crowd’s hands are raised above their heads to applaud – I suppose that’s the equivalent of a standing ovation at a seated show – and it’s well deserved.

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Adam Smith

There is nothing I'd rather be doing with my evenings than watching excellently crafted live music. In fact, there isn't much I'd rather be doing than watching half-decent live music. Having too often seen excellent bands fail to garner the attention I believe they deserve, I'm here to spread the good word of the under-appreciated musical performer. I encourage everyone who is reading this to do the same.