Gorilla, Manchester

It always makes live music more enjoyable when the act preceding the ‘main event’ are worth telling your friends about the next day. Stealing Sheep were exactly that. Despite channelling Warpaint, with a hint of Braids, the character and spirit of their primal music was distinctly anglo-saxon. Swaying with wild chants and pummeling drums, their music flooded the space with great waves of atmosphere. A powerful trio who are primed to enjoy a fantastic summer of festivals.

As the hush falls across the crowd and Villagers stride onto the stage I am struck that I have only ever seen them as a support act. They have played before many fantastic acts - Tindersticks, Elbow, Tracy Chapman and more recently Grizzly Bear. Seeing them stretch their limbs across a full bodied set was a refreshing experience. Two albums down, they now have the back catalogue to play a set that carries enough variation in personality. Whilst their first album - 2010’s Becoming a Jackal - still holds the strongest songs, their live show is all the better for their more recent record {Awayland} (2013). Their musical maturity into a more synthesised-folk gives their performance focus and movement. Allowing for the muted sinister tones of ‘Becoming a Jackal’, from album number one, to be lifted with tenacity by newer songs like ‘Waves’ or ‘The Bell’.

The returning niggle is simply the quality of the songwriting on the second album -  whilst far from substandard it doesn’t have the haunting resonance of the first album. When Villagers play ‘Home’, a stand out track from their debut record, Conor O’Brien’s vocals sail out and merge with a crowd of loyal followers who grow in voice - joining his melody. {Awayland} provides character, but it was hard to pinpoint a moment when the crowd was fully behind it as a record. This is, in part, an unfair criticism; the album was only released a month or two ago and it will grow in popularity. Yet moments from Becoming a Jackal recall the live atmosphere of ‘I Am Kloot’, capturing a band, not necessarily reaching for superstardom - but at the absolute height of their powers in terms of following. It’s a fantastic moment when a crowd of any size cheer the opening chord of a song because they know the story about to be told, or the melody about to be brought to life. This is what Conor O’Brien does with Villagers - exceptionally well.

Words: Angus Harrison

AuthorDuncan Harrison