On occasion, it can pay off to be ambitious. When I decided I was first going to watch Villagers play at Astra Kulturhaus in Friedrichshain, before heading over to the deepest Neukölln to celebrate Doomsday Student at bei Roy, I was not fully convinced myself that this plan was achievable. But all worked out and all for the better.
Conor O'Brien, aka Villagers, has been on my live music wish list for some time. Regrettably, I was not able to attend his last Berlin performance at Festsaal Kreuzberg. With the new album coming out in the new year, determination to see him with the current set raged in me. Which is how I ended up going to a sold out Grizzly Bear gig and not hear a single song of Grizzly Bear.
I think many people greatly underestimate Villagers. They think of a shy Irish boy with an accoustic guitar and that one song, "Becoming A Jackal". However, if you give the album a close listen, and maybe more than once, you realise that Villagers is really a band. The album is heavily instrumented, with songs building up the way we have come to love from Arcade Fire among others, and vocal ranges vary greatly by song. Influences range from the obvious - singer-songwriter, poetic folk music - to such unexpected genres such as funk music or R'n'B. And all of it is underpinned with that certain melancholy that maybe only Irish musicians can convey.
Ahead of the gig, we were a little worried that he was going to be supporting Grizzly Bear solo. Don't get me wrong, he is a fantastic songwriter and musician, but we wanted the full monty. Lucky for us, Mr. O'Brien rarely performs without a band these days and did not do so last night either. And lucky for Mr. O'Brien, he has got the most fantastic band. I was very impressed by how great it sounded and how passionate and involved his band got with the whole performance. It was a pleasure to hear and watch. The audience was thankful and clapped and cheered. When they played "that song", many people sang along.
I could not help but wonder whether I was maybe not the only one who had trecked out to Astra primarily for Villagers. He is bound to return for headline shows once the new album has been released in January. I recommend that you go and be sucked into the magic of Villagers.
As for me, I quickly exited Astra, with a smile on my face, and headed right over to bei Roy for a date with J. and XNormanX and some amazingness. But that is another story.