The nerves are evident. This is terrifying, Villagers singer Conor O’Brien assures the audience after his band have played their first song to an audience since the Milk Market in Limerick last September. Later, after another new song, one of many, entitled ‘Passing A Message’, he says it’s strange playing these new songs in front of people. There’s also a point during this gig, held in Dolan’s Warehouse in the same city that last played host to them, that Conor looks up at guitarist Tommy McLoughlin and a smile breaks out. Villagers have been busy recording new songs for the past few months and tonight is their first time being showcased. The show is far from a sellout – let’s call it intimate – but it’s strange to see Villagers suddenly unsure of themselves. This weekend, Villagers headline the Body & Soul festival, hence this warm-up show. That smile was one full of knowing: look, the songs are working, it implies.

A 16-song set, only five feature on the debut album Becoming A Jackal. They open with ‘Grateful Song‘, which sees Tommy rock a mandolin while Conor tells the crowd: “I am grateful for your company.” This reassuring tale is immediately juxtaposed with the nihilistic ‘Nothing Arrived’, with its simple, worrying and howled refrain: “I was waiting for nothing and nothing arrived.” The new songs continue with ‘The Waves’, the biggest departure hitherto, with a bass-heavy beginning hinting at a disco direction. It’s not quite Saturday Night Fever, though. Conor continues on the downward lyric range, however, saying the birds and the bees do nothing for him. They seem at odds with the soaring, hopeful ‘Becoming A Jackal’, which Villagers play prior to the encore, and, indeed, ‘Ship Of Promises’. Most of the tracks were presumably written on the road – and boy, were Villagers on the road for a long time – but hopefully they won’t get too down playing the new ones.

Jim Carroll already wrote about Villagers’ other show this weekend, in the Spirit Store in Dundalk. There they began with a quiet opening salvo of ‘My Lighthouse’ and ‘In A Newfound Land’, which in Limerick formed the centrepiece. Presumably they shifted the set around because of pockets of the crowd talking and everybody else shushing them. It’s a very shushy crowd, Conor said. (But seriously, why would you pay €20 to see Villagers, then talk through their quietest songs of the set so far? They’re only onstage for 80 minutes, so can’t it wait?) Those quiet songs are gorgeous, by the way, with the former, bathed in violent moonlight, featuring Grizzly Bear-like harmonies. ‘The Bell’ is the heaviest track of the set and one that should be familiar if you’ve seen Villagers in the past. But it has grown in stature, with Conor looking like a strapping, full-on rockstar with the guitar draped behind while he bangs the drums.

The highlights of Villagers’ comeback show were ‘Rhythm Composer’ and ‘Earthly Pleasure’. The former is a schmoozy affair, a simple pop track that takes a twist in the middle while the latter, though it features electronics that don’t work (the only technical difficulty I spotted), is a cavalcade of ideas that point to how confident the band are when crafting songs. It’s not just Conor O’Brien feeling the pressure because the rest of the group, Tommy, bassist Danny, drummer and Any Other City labelrunner James and keyboardist Cormac, have helped out in the songwriting department, with Tommy reprising his recording role. ‘Earthly Pleasure’ sounds massive; Conor even breaks a tambourine during the song – that’s how rock it is. We get an instrumental track, ‘Awayland’, that just seems thrown in for fun before we close with old favourites ‘Set The Tigers Free’ and ‘Ship Of Promises’.

I wonder what the plan is for Villagers. They’ve already toured the world, Conor’s already walked every street with his acoustic guitar and Villagers are already beloved of music fans in their home country. This comeback gig, and perhaps the future for the band, could be summed up as being “the same, but bigger”. I’ve loved them since the first time I saw them in De Barras in Clonakilty when they played their third show (The singer from Berkeley and the guy from the Immediate in one band, I thought: this must be musical nirvana. It was). Now, about three years on, I love them just as much. I came out of Dolan’s thinking I had seen something magical. I hope everybody else gets to experience that over the next few months and longer.