Villagers - Manchester Academy 3 - 29.11.10

With a Mercury Music Prize nomination behind them, Villagers head out on their most anticipated tour to date and tonight the first date of that tour doesn't fail to impress. But tonight isn't so much a celebration of the past 12 months - more a quiet monday night revue of past work and a look at the future offerings. After all Villagers don't offer a Mumford and Sons bombast affair, its more reflective, more finely tuned than that and often impenetrable at times as we look into Conor J O'Briens mind yet struggle with the fact that for much of tonight's set the air conditioning is actually louder than the sound from the stage.

With just the one album behind them "Becoming A Jackal" is delved into from the more overt pop moments such as "That Day", "The Pact (i'll be Your Fever)" and the albums title track through to more introspective songs ala "Home". What is more interesting is the rockier "Ship Of Promises" which sees O'Brien taking himself down the path that Pete Yorn does so well, with a rootsy driving beat backing the narrative. Its one of the few moments that the band really let loose and you hope its a route they'll take on album number 2, one track is previewed from the next album but its very much in its skeletal stage with just a solo performance tonight and still to be fully embellished by the full band.

Perhaps the only criticism of tonight's show is that the live performance doesn't offer anything new from the recorded versions. Good songs though they are these are very faithful to the original and unless you're a hardcore fan, something that seems to be much more apparent back in his home country than in England, then there's simply nothing that would inspire a return visit. That said the next album could be a game changer and it will be interesting to see if O'Brien builds on the interesting orchestral elements and is inspired by the instrumentation of a band like the High Llamas or takes it on a rockier root ala Pete Yorn.

Alex McCann



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