Villagers @ Leeds Cockpit 09/12/10

Despite losing out on this year’s Mercury Prize to the xx, it would be unfair to chalk up 2010 as anything but a huge success for this young Irish band. With the Mercury nomination pushing debut ‘Becoming A Jackal’ to attract comparisons with the likes of Bright Eyes, Leonard Cohen and U2, Villagers are making friends in all the right places. My only concern ahead of tonight’s outing; just how well would the band’s sparse and at times haunting stillness translate on stage?

Upon entering an almost empty Cockpit things were not looking great. Thankfully well matched support from of local lad Sam Airey; who relished in the opportunity to open proceedings, followed by the equally impressive Alessi’s Ark, soon perked up spirits.. Whilst neither may have completely captured the imagination of the crowd, both were pleasant, each with their own blend of acoustic whimsy.

Emerging as a solitary figure on stage is certainly a bold entrance for Conor O’Brien. Yet despite his vulnerability, opener ‘Twenty Seven Strangers’ commands an overwhelming silence from a fully captivated audience. The rest of the band soon join him, as they proceed throw a showcase of the debut, as well as songs from the previous EP, including ‘On a Sunlit Stage’.

‘I Saw The Dead’ is a mid-set highlight, the song’s grand scale coming to life on stage as O’Brien squats over a keyboard. However equally impressive is how he manages to shift between focused performance and lighthearted banter between songs; with the thunderous sound of overhead trains lending itself to much amusement.

As the initial set drew to a strong finish with the likes of ‘The Pact (I’ll be Your Fever)’ and ‘Cecelia’, they’re only bettered by a breathtaking encore featuring a solo version of ‘That Day’ and a dramatic ‘Pieces’. Rest assured, if Villagers keep delivering performances as deeply intimate as this, they’ll be plenty more accolades heading their way.

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