While there is much to be learned about American culture from, say, Seinfeld, I have been victim of my own presumptions and misconceptions on a variety of occasions. In Dublin, if one was to see that Villagers were playing at Joe’s Pub at 9.30, one would presume that it was okay to show up a little after ten and still catch the start of the set. One might also presume that one was going to be in a fairly normal-type pub.
But no, Joe’s Pub is the kind of classy joint that has its own grand piano on the stage permanently, and 9.30 means Conor O’Brien, physically onstage and performing, at 9.30. Now I know.
Even though I only managed to see a half-set plus encore, Villagers solo is a stunning thing. The jamming inclinations of the band are part of what stops Becoming A Jackal from being the truly impressive piece of work it hints at being, but while the band does contribute positively a lot of the time, I think I’d choose Conor alone four times out of five.
He can make a room follow him blindly. He can be standing on a stage in New York in a bar with waitress service and presumably a sizeable contingent of people who haven’t heard much of his stuff, and start a song a capella, and have the din cut out immediately. After a few glasses of wine, he’s cocksure, and he knows his voice now better than he did without the band in the early days.
The Meaning of the Ritual, The Pact and Home are all of the set I get, but after essentially currying an ovation out of the assembled, seated audience (more than a hundred, definitely), he came back out and did Cecilia and Her Selfhood/Sister, an album outtake which seems to work perfectly when it builds simply from whispered a capella to clattered nylon-string guitar. It’s seven minutes long at least and it’s not even on record, but it holds the crowd’s attention 100%. And then it ends, he leaves and it’s over.