The latest material from Hozier blends seamlessly with his renowned indie hits within a live setting, creating a remarkable on-stage experience, Matthew Johnson reviews
Hozier performed on the 9th of December at the O2 Academy in Birmingham to a sold out arena, before heading off to London to perform on the 11th and 12th of December. His UK tour ended on 6 successive shows across Ireland and in Belfast to round off 2018 on a high note, advertising the new material he released over the prior two months.
The gig was opened by an American artist who has been touring with him: Suzanna Salto, from Cleveland, Ohio. A polymath who is an expert not only in vocals, guitar, and violin, but who also has numerous acting credits to her name, she delivered a soulful performance which prepped the crowd nicely for the dulcet tones of Hozier himself. Santo has played this venue before, opening for Jake Bugg 6 years ago, and welcomed a warm return to the UK music scene. She opened with the electric ‘Better Than That’ to a fantastic crowd reception, and her set peaked on an especially tricky cover of ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac. Suzanne Santo left us with a fantastic performance of her biggest hit: ‘Ghost in My Bed’. Alas this wasn’t the last we saw of her, as she helped Hozier’s performance by adding backup vocals and playing the violin.
Hozier appeared to a roaring and ready audience, and opened with a crowd pleaser ‘Like Real People Do’ to great reception. The sound system and organisation of the event was on point, and was exemplified by his powerful performance of ‘Nina Cried Power’ – the lead song from his most recent EP . On a personal note, I had to say that this live version breathed new life into a song which I personally believed the studio version to be underwhelming. I was happily proven wrong as his explosive vocals and acoustic approach electrified the 3,000 strong crowd, showing his vocal diversity and his band’s range of banging sounds. Following this ballad of strong individual vocal moments, Hozier played a hit from his first album which really got people moving – ‘Jackie and Wilson’. The studio version is already incredible, but the live rendition gave me goosebumps as he kicked the crowd into gear.
Hozier followed a strong start by showcasing his ability to transition smoothly into slower songs, playing soulful versions of his songs ‘From Eden’, and ‘NFWMB’ (the latter from his EP). This trend of playing a well-known track, and using that energy to transfer into his lesser known newly dropped EP was a recurring trend of this middle section, as he then played ‘Cherry Wine’, ‘Shrike’ and ‘Moment’s Silence’ in that order. ‘Shrike’ really stood out for me from all the songs from his new EP, and he made a special effort to describe the irony of naming a love song after the carnivorous bird which hangs its dead from thorns to much laughter from the audience. This song is a must listen for any Hozier fan, and the chorus ends with the striking lyrics: ‘Remember me, love when I’m reborn/ As a shrike to your sharp and glorious thorn’, which he put all his heart into delivering with a powerful, soulful tone.
Hozier closed his set with three incredibly powerful tunes which got the whole crowd involved in singing along. His improvised version of ‘Someone New’ was outstanding, using a drum line absent from the studio version to amplify the rhythm of the track, and giving more isolation to his strong vocal performance of the popular tune. Following this, he played his new single ‘Movement ’- his ‘favourite song’ of all his new material, he said. Being new, only a few people knew all the words, but for sure it’s the song everyone was singing on their walk home that evening. The lighting work deserved great applause because it really set the scene for Hozier to stand alone at the front of the stage and pour his heart and soul into the powerful chorus: ‘So move me baby/ Shake like the bough of a willow tree/ You do it naturally/ Move me baby’. This single is an absolute must for fans of the songs ‘From Eden’ and ‘Work Song’ as it delivers the slow and passionate Hozier vocals we have grown to adore over the 4 years since his previous album. Hozier ended his set with the crowd favourite ‘Take Me to Church’, to which every word was sung along by the adoring audience, and, having heard the studio version a million times, I still got absolute goosebumps as the song built towards an absolutely outstanding climax.
Hozier was only off stage for a hot minute as the crowd cheered their hearts out for an encore, to which he obliged to an outpour of shouting and screaming of adoration. He delivered a groovy and playful mashup of the two hit pop songs ‘7 Days’ by Craig David, and ‘Say My Name’ by Destiny’s Child, smoothly swapping between the two choruses effortlessly and to great effect, producing a wave of movement across a crowd who just couldn’t get enough. This was nothing compared to the roar of the crowd once the soft and subtle opening for ‘Work Song’ started playing. To end the set with a song this soulful, while still keeping the energy so high speaks volumes for his great versatility as an artist, and he undoubtedly shut the place down as he blasted out the famous lines: ‘When my time comes around/ lay me gently in the cold dark earth/ No grave can hold my body down/ I’ll crawl home to her’, and every voice in the room was singing along.
When his set ended there was sheer disbelief, I heard people all around me dazed by the sheer power of his performance, yet we would expect nothing less from Hozier, as he delivered in every aspect. To be noted, he took great time throughout the set to repeatedly thank his band, Suzanne Santo, and the audio/ lighting team which made the event possible, and, when they came out to bow at the end, he made sure everyone involved was on stage receiving the applause they so greatly deserved. This was a truly exceptional gig, and I’m certain the gig in the Olympia Theater in Dublin will be absolutely electric due to the history behind the venue itself, coupled with its compact acoustics.
‘Movement’ is available now via Rubyworks Limited.