Villagers are touring off the back of their recent Mercury Award nomination for their January album {Awayland}, an incredibly diverse record that had many a fan unsure of the electronic element (compared to their more acoustic 2010 debut Becoming a Jackal), yet completely drawing them back in by using those elements in brilliant and exciting ways. They sadly did not go further than a nomination for the second time, but lucky for us, they played Heaven in London’s Charing Cross recently and we were there.

It’s not long before opening band We Were Evergreen take the cluttered stage and instantly catch the audience’s attention with their upbeat sound and variety of instruments including a ukelele, whistles and a xylophone being a mainstay in most songs. Not to mention the cymbal positioned on the ground in front of lead singer, Michael Liot, which he would occasionally kick. The Anglo-French trio talk little but create a heady atmosphere with a song which begins by the lights going solid crimson red as the music begins, feeling like a dream with a beat, finished by a trumpet solo. The group end with ‘False Start’ from their upcoming debut album and really go out with a bang as the song draws to an end and all three members perform a simultaneous drum solo, jumping and hollering as they do before quietly making their exit.

It’s not long before the lights suddenly plunge into darkness, the crowd edges closer with anticipation and figures are seen slinking onto the stage, Conor O’Brien instantly recognisable and waving at the crowd through the darkness. ‘My Lighthouse’ opens their set to a smattering of cheers and an excitable grin on the elusive frontman’s face. However, it is only after the third song in, ‘Passing a Message’, that he speaks for the first time, just to say “thank you” and move swiftly on to ‘Nothing Arrived’, another crowd favourite gathered by the short but sweet cry from the audience. He is slightly more talkative introducing ‘The Pact’; “This is a relatively old song…we’re relatively old.”

The band fly through their thirteen song setlist, but ‘The Waves’ is truly something to behold, with O’Brien slinging his guitar on his back, thumping his chest and screaming his heart out, dancing and jumping all over the stage, energy sky high. Almost unbelievable coming from the same man who comes across almost shy of the adoring crowd. ‘Ship of Promises’ is introduced by Conor instructing the band to slow it all down and to “groove this one out”, yet ending with O’Brien perched on the very edge of the stage singing right into the audience in a sort of rock and roll bravado moment before everything goes dark and quiet. But not for long, as the crowd are stomping their feet, chanting, cheering, clapping and hollering as soon as the band leave the stage until the moment they uproar at the sight of both keyboardist and lead singer re-entering the room to a much more somberly lit stage.

‘Memoir’, a b-side, is the reintroducing track and sends shivers down spines with the intimate atmosphere suddenly created with minimal members, lighting and a haunting song. The rest of the band come back for ’27 Stangers’, the crowd creating a ghostly hum along with the band and more people singing along than any other song so far, Connor even holds his fingers up to his face and takes a mental photograph of the moment once the song is over.

The night ends with O’Brien stating at least three times not to film the upcoming song; “You can do anything else. Get naked. Get clothed. Just don’t film this one.” Other than that, the song is not named or expanded upon and it is assumed it is a new track. With the song opening with the lines “So you thank me for my hard work/But you’ve had it up to there” and implementing a lot of “oh lord”‘s, it sounds to be in the same vein as Villagers’ earlier music, yet has something different and exciting and new about it, as would be expected with anything new coming from such innovative, brilliant musicians.

The whole affair ends with a loud cheer and Conor O’Brien waggling his fingers at the crowd, smiling cheekily before finally exiting stage right and leaving a room full of fans new and old, excitedly talking and comparing other times the band have amazed in just the past year alone.

Photos by Dan Hess