Capitol Hill Block Party 2010 Review: Villagers
Sunday, July 25, 2010
By Ben Allen
A hush settles over a quiet audience as a lone performer begins his next song. As I scan the room, all eyes are transfixed on this magnetic character as he lightly strums his acoustic guitar and sings in a voice so full of conviction, it’s stunning.
This was the scene at Neumos as Dublin’s Conor J. Obrien (Villagers) performed a solo set on the last day of this year’s Capitol Hill Block Party. Evidently his accompanying band could not make it as he “couldn’t afford” to fly them to the show.
Lucky for us, Villagers’ music seems to have more of an impact when performed solo. Hearing the debut album, Becoming A Jackal, full of instrumentation and production takes something away from the incredibly intimate nature of O’Brien’s songwriting. It’s this intimacy, honesty and conviction that managed to captivate hundreds of intoxicated festival-goers, even in a venue as large as Neumos.
Villagers formed in 2008 after O’Brien’s previous band, The Immediate, broke up. Since their first live performance in November of 2008, they have toured with Neil Young and Tracy Chapman. They also played numerous festivals in 2009. Their debut EP, Hollow Kind, was released in February 2009 and Jackal came out on Domino in May of this year.
O’Brien’s songwriting manages to be simple and complex at the same time. What on the surface sounds like straight forward indie-folk actually contains complex chord progressions and incredibly difficult vocal arrangements.
Amazingly, the press hasn’t run wild with Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) comparisons. They look similar. They’re both named conor. Both play a folky style music, often only with acoustic guitar and vocals. And there are even some similarities in songwriting, too, but Dublin’s Conor has a much stronger voice.
Thanks to that strong voice and great songwriiting, Villagers is quickly gaining new fans and praise from critics. If his songwriting continues to get stronger, O’Brien is at the dawn of a very successful career. Just watch out for those Bright Eyes comparisons.
Watch Villagers perform live for KEXP at the 2010 Capitol Hill Block Party.