Live Review: Hozier, Shepherds Bush Empire, 1st Feb 2015

Photo Source: Nathan Barnes

Photo Source: Nathan Barnes

Young Irish songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne, better known simply as Hozier, has had an astounding year. His song ‘Take Me To Church’ reached number 2 in the charts, currently has around 90 million views on YouTube, was one of the most listened to songs of the year and earned him nominations for both a Grammy and a BRIT award. His eponymous debut album has received critical acclaim. His songs have featured in several top TV soundtracks, he’s performed at such high profile events as Saturday Night Live and the Victoria Secret Fashion Show, Adele has attended one of his concerts and is one of his many famous fans and, most importantly, he won my award for album of the year. Thankfully I was lucky enough to get tickets to one his several sold out London shows.

When I say sold out, I mean sold out! You couldn’t have packed any more people into that room if you tried. At first I was a little downhearted at not having a standing ticket, but looking down at them all packed in like sardines I was glad to have a seat. Even up in the seating area people were gathered in the aisles wanting to get their piece of the action. Both of the support acts were part of Hozier’s team. First up Cellist Alana Henderson performed some quirky folk pop which sadly was rather quiet, and sometimes a bit disjointed, and often failed to keep the attention of the audience. The following act, female trio Wyvern Lingo, met with more success. The songs were charming and each member of the band were adept musicians and sang well both taking it in turns and singing harmonies. I’d say that the songs need development, to expand them and find a good hook, and the harmonies need refinement and perhaps need to be held back a little as a secret weapon in their musical arsenal.

Hozier then took to the stage and dove right in to some of the highlights from his debut album, including the foot stomping alt-rock of ‘Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene’ and upbeat rhythm and blues of ‘Jackie and Wilson’, and the morbid love song ‘In A Week’ which was sung as a duet with Karen Cowley from Wyvern Lingo. Each song was given new life on stage and had a magic that put the studio versions (as excellent as they are) to shame. Even from my vantage point up on the balcony he was an imposing figure, but when he spoke he sounded very down to earth and genuine. He seemed so full of surprise and gratitude that so many people were in attendance. My personal highlight was ‘Arsonist’s Lullaby’ which showcased Hozier’s incredible voice, was backed by an excellent light show and slowly built up to become more and more menacing and mesmerising. It was best summed up by it’s own lyrics: “Something in it had a power, Could barely tear my eyes away”.

After closing with his big hit and having left everyone on a high, he and the band returned for the encore. It included an Indie cover of Amerie’s ‘1 Thing’ that they save for “fun occasions” and a solo acoustic rendition of ‘Cherry Wine’ that had the audience utterly captivated, you could’ve heard a pin drop. Hozier’s soulful bluesy music and exquisite songwriting got a reaction the likes of which I’ve never seen. The applause sounded as though it had come from a venue twice the size. Hozier is no one hit wonder, he’s a talented musician with a dedicated fan base and the world at his feet. Here’s hoping ‘Take Me To Church’ is just the first step on his rapid rise to the top.