Villagers

Whilst the name may conjure up an image of a huge band of angry country folk waving pitchforks and burning huge phallic symbols made of straw Villagers is, essentially, just one bloke, Conor J. O’Brien. Attracting gushing reviews for his/their debut album, earning comparisons with such greats as Laughing Lenny Cohen, Elliot Smith and king of the cabin blues Bon Iver, he’s got himself well and truly stuck on the tastemakers ‘ones to watch’ lists. First up tonight though someone who’s in a band that’s well and truly on my own personal ‘ones to watch’ list (smooth link eh…I should be on local news), it’s John Fell from Goodnight Lenin.

John Fell

For those of you not in the know the Lenin follow in the grand tradition of bands like Simon & Garfunkel or CSN&Y and their three part harmonies are just a joy to listen to. As a solo artist John’s got plenty to offer though, with a clear, confident vocal and a warm, natural style of performing that puts audiences at ease from the very first note (and that’s an all too rare skill). Tonight he played one or two Lenin tracks plus a few solo numbers including ‘Blame Me Accordingly’ and ‘Into The Storm’ which combine a Dylan-esque way with words with a fine ear for a melody.

John Fell John Fell

One of the highlights of the set was an unfinished number, a real work in progress. John gave us all fair warning that it was unfinished and urged us just to clap when the words ran out (which we did). It’s not often that you get artists with the cojones to just get up there and give us a sneaky peak into their lyrical sketchpads, it’s this confidence and unquenchable creative spark that makes Goodnight Lenin such an exciting prospect…

John Fell

After bidding goodnight to one of Goodnight Lenin it was time to say hello to the one and only Villagers.

Villagers

Like I say ‘they’ (as I understand it) are really a ‘he’ (in the studio at least) but tonight he was backed by four other dudes (none of whom had pitchforks or huge straw phalluses thankfully). From opening track ‘The Meaning of the Ritual’ though to the closing encore of ‘Sunlit Stage’ it’s fair to say that Villagers pretty much blew the socks off most of the audience (I’ve rarely seen a standing ovation in The Glee Club like we had tonight). Why? It’s the whole package.

Villagers Villagers

Vocally Conor puts his heart and soul into every last syllable. Musically you’ve got the sort of slow burning intensity that Radiohead made their own (there are echoes of Fleet Foxes and Eels in the mix too) and lyrically there’s enough to keep Sigmund Freud awake for a month. Set highlight (and recent single) ‘Becoming a Jackel’ seems to be a brutally honest expression of Conor’s relationship with his audience (“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”). Hmmm. The audience as unwitting therapists? The stage as couch? Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick but that seems to be the message.

Villagers Villagers

Of course there’s nothing new in artists packaging up human misery and flogging it back to us but not many have the balls to be so upfront about it. Speaking of being upfront, hot on the heels of ‘Jackel’ came arguably the most arresting track of the night, ‘Pieces’, which began as a half whispered lament before Conor started howling (literally, full on ‘American Werewolf in London’ style howling) like a wounded animal… which was, albeit it metaphorically, the whole point of the song I guess. It’s a little like watching someone have a nervous breakdown in front of you and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one shuffling slightly nervously in my seat (not least because I feared Conor might try cocking his leg up me).

Villagers

These moments of emotional intensity continued, unabated, throughout the set (with Conor frequently pulling back from the mic, possibly out of a fear that his vocals might blow something expensive in the mixing desk). After helpfully introducing one track ‘Pact’ (a jaunty number featuring the refrain “You be the master, I’ll be your fever”) with the words “This is Pact…I…have nothing to say about it” (after reading interviews with Conor it’s clear he’s happier just letting the songs do the talking), another high point, ‘I Saw The Dead’, gave us the kind of rich wordplay that could rival, say, the works of Jacques Brel in terms of its grimly imaginative view of the world. Powerful stuff. As the converted crowded round the merch desk at the end of the night it’s clear that, for once, the tastemakers seem to have got it right… ‘ones to watch’.

Words by Daron Billings, email me.
Photos by Wayne Fox, email me.

One Response to “Villagers + John Fell @ The Glee Club, Birmingham, 1 June 2010”

  1. Wayne Says:

    Thank you Bianca :)
    Wx

Leave a Reply