It was tonight that I fell in love. I’d heard Conor O’Brien was pretty good, some decent ditties and melodic love songs. What I wasn’t prepared for was the bewitching spectacle that transfixed me for the hour long set on this wintry evening in London. O’Brien’s song writing skills are such that sepia tinged melodies are given a gritty, knowing and modern realism in their lyrics. Such a clear, sweet voice seems at odds with the seeming meaning of the lyrics…smooth caressing vocals wind their way through the crowd, sudden realisation of the maturity and complexity of O’Brien shaking anyone out of a twilight lull.
O’Brien begins the show a solitary figure, absorbing the Scala with “Twenty Seven Strangers”, “To Be Counted Among Men” “The Meaning of the Ritual”, and “I Saw the Dead” before bringing on his full band, and it seems, good friends, where the a thrash of the strings signals the start of ‘Home’, before the beautiful ‘Becoming A Jackal.’ ‘I Saw The Dead’s haunting opening is given substance in the strings, and a slight change in tempo for ‘Pieces’ means that even the most avid CD listener is entrapped anew.
Like Domino label mate, Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, O’Brien has the talent of using very concrete colloquial words to create a meaning more heartfelt and apt than the average simile. Almost Eliot’s objective correlative, this has the effect of making each song a personal and poignant, as well as contemporary comprehensive comment, a sort of musical time capsule. Nowhere is this more evident than on ‘Meaning of Ritual’ as he bristles ‘My love is selfish, and I bet that yours is too’, and ‘Twenty Seven Strangers’, the intense visual imagery that accompanies the words conjouring the images of that bus.
It is ‘Becoming A Jackal’ that makes the audience spin the spotlight from O’Brien to themselves, momentarily reflecting on what exactly he poses with the statement ‘So before you take this song as truth/ You should wonder what I’m taking from you/ How I benefit from you being here/ Lending me your ears while I’m selling you my fears.’
On the evidence of the beguiling performance and the daze with which everyone filters down the spiral staircases of the Scala to the harsh lights of King’s Cross, it seems that O’Brien has taken it all, minds, hearts and souls.