Villagers, The Old Market, Hove, February 17

First published in The Critic by

Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock knew how to keep an audience on the edge of their seats. It was all about building tension – something which Villagers’ Conor O’Brien is clearly a master of.

He had structured his Old Market show perfectly, starting with a solo acoustic performance of That Day, before adding band members over the next five songs.

During that slow build, he kept the five-piece reined in, only allowing hints of the power they possessed. When they were suddenly released midway through Grateful Song the room almost lifted off its foundations.

It was a technique he used to great effect through most of the set, holding back on Set The Tigers Free and Passing A Message before letting go on The Bell, keeping the audience in a permanent state of suspense. The release of closing full-band encores of The Waves and Ship Of Promises were a sharp contrast to the acoustic opening.

The skilful use of dynamics meant not one syllable of O’Brien’s lyrics were lost, with his soft phrasing working best unaccompanied.

It also meant his excellent songwriting was at the centre of the show –with selections from his Mercury-nominated calling card Becoming A Jackal, sitting comfortably with what could be his career-making follow-up Awayland.

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