The sound of a one-man village

Villagers – Joe’s Pub – June 23rd

The stage at Joe’s Pub was set up simply for Wednesday’s set. Just a couple of spotlights coming together to make one beam and a single mic stand. Irish singer-songwriter Conor O’Brien wordlessly took the stage, picked up his acoustic guitar, and began to play “To Be Counted Among Men,” the last track on his debut album Becoming a Jackal. It was a bit of a slow start for the evening, but appropriately so. Though his album is recorded with a fuller range of instruments, his show at Joe’s pub was solo. Conor’s music lends itself well to an unassuming delivery. This way, his poetic lyrics ring out clearly, demanding to be not only heard but thoughtfully considered.

Conor O'Brien of Villagers (Photo Richard Gilligan)

Seeing Villagers was a nice conclusion to a double-feature of singer-songwriter types. Earlier in the evening, I caught Sam Amidon over at the Mercury Lounge. Hopefully, my review will go up on Brooklyn Vegan soon, but suffice it to say that it was a great show. Amidon’s songs took us on a trip through the mountains, revealed the story of a woman waiting for her husband to return from war, and paraded us past girls with rosy-red lips. (Then there were the homicidal vegetarian robots and the little people walking on rubber band bridges… but we won’t get into all that now.)

Back over at Joe’s Pub, the sound was excellent. Of course, if you’ve been to the space, you’ll know that ‘pub’ is a bit of a misnomer. Instead of grime, clinking steins, ill-prepared seafood, and burly men, this pub is more of a lounge or a speak easy. Small tables and booths fill the space, people are quiet and respectful, and there are candles sprinkled throughout the place. There may not have been percussion, but the you could feel the gentle rumble of the 6 train going by under the venue, and surprisingly, the effect was kind of nice.

After playing a handful of songs on the guitar (including the excellent title track), O’Brien hopped over to the piano. I’m going to give this a go. O’Brien proceeded to warn us that he didn’t really know how to play the piano, but the piece didn’t seem all that rudimentary, and eerie lyrics were quite compelling. I’m going to write more songs for the piano. That was really fun, he admitted after switching back to the guitar.

O’Brien concluded his set with a nice little encore, featuring two songs not found on the album, “Cecilia and Her Selfhood” and “On a Sunlit Stage.”

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