Having originally booked tickets solely for Wild Beasts at the Academy last month, I was over-joyed when I discovered the support slot would be comprised of none other than Villagers; the collective term for previous The Immediate member Conor O’Brien’s solo endeavour. Having pinned my hopes on the now defunct The Immediate as the saviour of the Irish music scene, I had been desperate to catch Villagers since hearing their first snippets of material last year. Such wishes had been dashed by a series of unavoidable events, thus on a balmy Saturday evening I set forth for The Academy; ticket super-glued to my head, masses of time to spare and brimming with excitement.
Alas, ‘when it rains it pours’, ‘wait all day for a bus and two come at once’…pick whatever trite saying necessary, but it appeared my luck of the Villagers support slot was well and truly in tow as I stepped into the venue to be greeted by an unassuming bloke with a guitar. This bloke turned out to be Lone Wolf, who in turn, transpired to be a truly excellent song-writer. Despite having no backing band (living up to his name…dum dum tish), and several sound issues, the couple of dozen souls in attendance were greeted to a treat, as he bucked the trend of the typical singer songwriter, serving up carefully layered, joyous songs with a rousing backbone. Particularly captivating was latest single “Keep your eyes on the road”, which harbours enough creativity to be spread across three separate tracks, yet dips and weaves unexpectedly to develop into one of the songs of the year so far. Accompanied by a stop motion promo-video of equally astounding quality, the track will find it’s home on Lone Wolf’s latest album The Devil And I, which shall be eagerly sought out upon it’s release on May 17th.
Meanwhile, the buzz which has surrounded Villagers in recent months was evident as the sold-out crowd filled close to capacity as Conor and comrades took to the stage. Fresh from SXSW, where they received rave reviews, and with the American release for their debut subsequently secured, they launched into a stirring set with the confidence of a band who know they’re onto something special. The crowd hang on O’Brien’s every word as he delivers a masterclass in songwriting; delicate arrangements give way to surging finale’s and the air hangs silent in The Academy as O’Brien’s voice transforms into a series of surging, eerie howls at the end of Pieces. There’s an incredibly emotive and personal element to Conor’s work and though it is clear the songs were crafted through a solo endeavor the presence of the other members of the band should not be understated as their subtle arrangements yields a depth far greater than the typical backing band’s endeavours. Having recently signed to Domino Records and having performed on the Jools Holland show last week, these are exciting times for Villagers and it’s truly heartening to see such a shining light rise from the ashes of The Immediate. Impassioned, memorable and well and truly worth the wait.
As the masses retreat to the bar, drained and amazed by Villagers stirring efforts, the pressure was on Wild Beasts to reassert their headline status. Thankfully, they rise to the occasion. Taking to the stage amid a background of pulsing fairy lights, Conor O’Brien’s lingering howls are soon replicated by a haunting set, full of the verve and darkness for which they have come to be known. From the settled opening of The Fun Powder Plot to the playful Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants (which one suspects is the closest they’ll get to a conventional pop song), the set gains momentum which each track as Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming swap vocal duties with equal aplomb, meandering through tales of troubled anarchy and aristocracy. Brooding and reflective, Wild Beasts are as captivating live as on record and for a band with one of the best album’s of recent years in the form of Two Dancers, this is a high compliment indeed. A night of three very different yet equally rewarding artists comes to a close amid the finale of ‘Hooting and Howling’ which presents the closest to a mosh-pit one would find at a gig of this kind. Although on the whole Wild Beasts’ set may lack a certain sing-along element, one feels there are enough identikit bands providing such a feat week in week out for this not to matter. True originality is there to be celebrated and it is the inability to pigeon hole Wild Beasts that is perhaps their greatest strength, such is their awe-inducing creativity.
Weird, wonderful and incredibly unique, Wild Beasts are the introspective loner of the classroom, skulking quietly misunderstood in the shadows yet seemingly always destined for greatness.