As Moulettes kicked proceedings off on Thursday night, the Black Box resembled a noisy oven. Tickets were as scarce as gold dust and the venue truly was packed as the folk collective introduced their interesting slant on the genre, channelling Eastern European folk influences with a cheeky burlesque element thrown in for good measure. Unlock The Doors is a great little upbeat number with some driving percussion and wailing violin solos, including a prominent French bassoon part (Perhaps the first time those words have ever been used by ATL...).
However, the audience being losing interest halfway through the set, with Moulettes not doing themselves any favours. Some tracks grind to a halt instead of coming to a planned conclusion, whilst the final song of the set (a self professed requiem for an apocalypse) appears to come to a graceful ending, followed by loud applause by the crowd... but we're too early - they're not done yet. And then it happens twice more. A tighter performance and perhaps a little more pragmatism to go with the sheer energy and debauchery on stage will go an awful long way.
From the first chord played by Conor O'Brien it's painfully obvious that we're witnessing something special. The chit-chat ceases, Twenty Seven Strangers stuns the crowd, with only three things audible in the venue: the spine-tingling falsetto of O'Brien, a soft guitar tone, and the occasional beep of a digital camera. Lyrically the track appears at first glance to be prosaic and unimaginative, but there's something of the Thornton Wilder about this songwriter, finding something beautiful in the ordinary cycle of life.
From there on, we fly through the Mercury nominated debut album of Villagers. There's the Paul Simon-inspired I'll Be Your Fever providing a moment to dance and sing along, an upbeat number with clean guitars and a great bassline. The crowd are more than willing to give Conor the time of day when it's just him on stage but it is genuinely surprising (and disappointing) the volume of chatter from the audience when it's a full band track. Despite this distraction Villagers seem to have found that necessary live balance between a fuller, more experimental sound and the sheer intimacy of an acoustic track.
Becoming A Jackal gets a great response; arguably his most mainstream track, and one which has helped transform this debut record into a real sleeper hit. However the encore provides the highlight of the performance. With new track In A New Found Land, You Are Free and On A Sunlit Stage, we revisit that haunting beauty and that brittle, terrifying magic O'Brien possesses. The comparisons to the late Elliott Smith are well deserved, and the world is eagerly anticipating where Villagers will go from here.