Sometimes things are just perfect. The day of the official UK release of Darling Arithmetic, the sparkling third album from Conor O’Brien’s Villagers, coincided with the opening night of the UK tour at the splendid St George’s venue in Bristol on the most sultry of spring evenings.
An ideal venue for the newly stripped back, intimate and deeply personal material, O’Brien took to the stage in his usual unassuming way along with his drummer, double bassist, keys player and harpist. Together they launched into a set which mixed the, at once fresh and immediately familiar, new songs with material from the two previous albums. Opener (a personal favourite), Let the Tigers Free, showed straight away that the older material had been given an amazing refresh to sit with the new songs and the lo-fi, acoustic set up. The make-over made the old familiars seem new all over again, and if possible, even better than before.
O’Brien’s haunting and ethereal voice was in extraordinary good order, every word sharp as a tack, no matter how quietly delivered, the audience hushed and hanging on every pitch perfect note. The band was the epitome of quality musicianship, the whole sounding achingly gorgeous and unimaginably polished despite this being the opening UK night; truly remarkable.
The new album (surely a contender for those pointless ‘album of the year’ polls) is a thing of rare beauty, intimacy and honesty. The by now well know subject matter of O’Brien’s sexuality throughout the album is well documented, but I would rather see the albums theme as being about the twists and turns, hurdles and complications of anyone’s loves. The craftsmanship of the songs and the, less than usually Delphic, lyrics make them easily transferable into many people’s experience.
Support for the night was from the hugely talented Luke Sital-Singh, alone on the stage with his guitar and impressive, distinctive voice with songs from his rather wonderful debut album, The Fire Inside. Go seek him out.
It was none the less, and properly so, O’Brien’s night, and nights like this are rare and precious – remarkable voice, songs, musicianship, an evening of mesmerising, breathtaking and exquisite music.