The true sweet spot for seeing a new artist live is on their first headlining tour for their debut album. With a limited catalogue, the chances of hearing your favorites are good. If you’ve waited to see them until after the deluxe album is released, you’ll probably get one of the bonus tracks. To top it all off, you can always bank on a cover, if not a full-blown mash-up. From the moment Hozier’s towering, lanky frame silhouetted the doorway and strode to the center mic to the final bow with his cast and crew of supporting musicians, this itinerary held true.
Hozier launched in sans introduction with the deep humming of “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene”. The Irish blues singer tracked through a shuffled version of his entire album. Hard-hitting, intense tracks like “To Be Alone”, and “Arsonist’s Lullaby” were the emotional high points of the night (or low, depending on how well you handle searching the darkest parts of your soul). While all eyes were on him, through these songs’ lyrics he reciprocated the attention by engendering a self-introspective atmosphere. Hozier proved his flexibility by easily transitioning from more haunting and relentless beats to gentle and sentimental acoustic tunes, like “Cherry Wine” and “In a Week.”
To be capable of such intensity and power, while at the same time having the propensity for an equal amount of gentleness and delicacy makes Hozier able to meet any musical need. These softer tracks provided him the opportunity to talk about his home country of Ireland. He described rising at 6:30 in the morning and climbing to the roof of an abandoned hotel in his hometown of Bray to capture “Cherry Wine” live for the album. In the recording, you can hear the birds chirping which gives an organic feeling, as if the song itself is something of nature. This is a pleasant complement to the video of the recording in which you can see shoots of greenery reclaiming the roof of the dilapidated hotel. “In a Week,” he explained, is about the Wicklow mountains where bodies are often discovered. In the context of his song, it is about two lovers who go there to “do what lovers do”, he says. In the live version, the cellist Alana Henderson, who is a talented singer in her own right, does the female vocal.
Enough praises cannot be sung of Hozier’s supporting musicians. Combining the talents of a cellist, keyboardist, drummer, two additional singers, and Alex Ryan on bass, synth, and the occasional cymbal (frequently at the same time), make Hozier a force of nature. The collaborative effort gives them the ability to weave the sound into an environment. They pushed the audience passed the point of being a motivated listener. They erased whatever you were trying to experience and forced you to simply let them take over your cognition. This group sets Hozier apart and above other musicians who simply can’t compete with that kind of intricate complexity.
Not to say that Hozier isn’t a talented instrumentalist as well. His cover of Skip James’ “Illinois Blues” gives a distinct example of his guitar skills and pays homage to his musical influences, besides being thoroughly enjoyable. Although I am generally against encores as a rule (I’m just not a fan of begging I suppose), by the time Hozier’s rolled around, I was more than happy to oblige. It felt earned and turned out to be well worth the effort. For the cover, they played a fun version of “1 Thing” originally by Amerie. I can’t pretend it didn’t seem totally out of context with the rest of the set, and I have no clue as to why he may have chosen it, but I preferred it to his Ariana Grande “Problems” cover, and it’s more energetic than the “Do I Wanna Know?” Arctic Monkeys cover. It was a strange shift from the vernacular of his work to that of a hip hop song but that kept it interesting. Included in the encore was one of the songs off the deluxe album, “Run,” which describes a relationship through lovely poetic imagery. The show ended with “Work Song,” which uses mainly claps as percussion and fused the audience with the band one last time before saying goodbye. Throughout the song, Hozier placed his hand over his heart as if to indicate his appreciation for the crowd and his feelings about being able to perform for us. The band formed a line and took a couple of group bows that were met with zealous applause.
Hozier is a humble artist attuned with something older and wiser than his age should allow. But luckily we can plug into that as well through his music and his performances. He is a gentle giant who along with his band brings a welcome wave of meaning and genuineness to a oversaturated, feel-good marketplace. Annie Lennox described Hozier as a bard, and I whole-heartedly agree. His songwriting skills reflect the prose writing of the best Irish poets, and in each song he weaves a subtle, but complete story, open to interpretation. It doesn’t matter your level of musical sophistication, this speaks to people at the level of human nature and thus can’t (and won’t) be ignored. Catch him while you can.