Let me say this straight off the bat – I’m a big Villagers fan.
Ever since I first saw them play a small stage at Reading, to when they supported Elbow on their arena tour, and now when they’re playing their own headline tour. Their first LP, ‘Becoming a Jackal‘, was a debut of beauty. Their second LP, ‘Awayland‘ was intricate and ambitious. And their latest album, ‘Darling Arithmetic‘, is the sound of a band stripping itself back to its core and laying themselves bare. The opening track, ‘Courage’ (which you can watch and listen to above) is the perfect example of that.
So my hopes were high for their show at The Gate in Cardiff, which is a beautiful venue that used to be a chapel. It turns out that the acoustics are pretty much perfect for an introverted acoustic act, and the band had seemingly decided to play to their strengths by using the sound and composition of their latest album as the basis for their workings of the songs they played. It’s no surprise then that it’s that album’s songs that are the strongest, with ‘Hot Scary Summer‘ in particular sounding absolutely epic with it’s refrain of “I am inside you, and you are in me”. The stark and straightforward lyrics of the outro contrast incredibly with the poetry in the verse as Conor O’Brien remembers “kissing on the cobblestones in the heat of the night / And all the pretty young homophobes looking out for a fight”.
Whilst the reworkings of older tracks are all interesting to hear, it brings a slightly monotone feel to a band who are at their best when they colourfully wear their dripping hearts on their sleeves. The tracks from ‘Awayland’, especially the singles ‘The Waves‘ and ‘Nothing Arrived‘, are stripped of their vibrancy in favour of sullen, stark versions.
Evidently I was the only one who thought so though, as the band left the stage to rapturous applause. Still, it was a thoroughly enjoyable night, just not necessarily one to tell the grand kids about.