On Monday night I headed back out to Lawrence, Kansas to see Hozier perform at Liberty Hall. I’ve been a fan ever since I first saw his Tiny Desk Concert on NPR last May. When I saw he had a concert coming up just a 40-minute drive away I had to get tickets!
My friend Lee and I got to Lawrence around 5 p.m. After a quick bite we waited in line (which snaked around the corner and down the block) for about an hour. It was pretty cold, but not unseasonable for late February—some kids in line were snuggled up on the ground in sleeping bags! Not quite as cold as a Packer game, though ;)
The opening band, Ásgeir, was okay. A band from Iceland, its sound and vibe was in the same vein as sigur rós and Bon Iver. It was a pleasant enough 25-minute set, but I wasn’t blown away. All the pieces pretty much sounded the same. Today I read more about this band and discovered its kind of a big deal in Iceland, so I’m a little surprised they didn’t have more of an impact.
Hozier and his six-piece band took the stage at about 9 p.m. “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” opened the set, followed by four more uptempo songs including Lee’s favorite (“From Eden,” surely Hozier’s next radio hit) and my two (current!) favorites, “Jackie and Wilson” and “Someone New.” Hozier’s stage presence at a live show is completely different than what I’ve seen on TV—he’s much more energized and engaging live, though still possessing a modest, earnest demeanor.
The pacing of the concert was just a little awkward in spots, especially placing a few solemn and solo tunes right in the middle (“In a Week,” “Like Real People Do”). “In a Week”—a voice duet plus acoustic guitar, Hozier performed this one with his cellist Alana Henderson—was stunning and held the crowd spellbound. “Illinois Blues,” a Delta blues legend Skip James song which Hozier explained was an inspiration to him when he first started learning music, unfortunately was a dud in the eyes of the crowd. I loved it, though! It really showed off Hozier’s fingerpicking skills and depth of musicianship. I think I might have been the only person in the room singing along to that one…
Saving the pièce de résistance for last, closing his set with his massive hit “Take Me to Church.” The crowd with bananas for it, as expected. Personally, I can take or leave this song by now—I’m over it, and judging by his slightly phoned-in performance it appears Hozier might be as well. It’s certainly not the best song on his debut album! Not even close.
After a short break, Hozier returned for a short encore set, which included “Cherry Wine,” “Run,” and the Amerie cover “1 Thing.” Is there anything this man can’t turn to gold?? His cover was better than the original by leaps and bounds. If Hozier doesn’t have time to come up with new material because of his ridiculously intense touring schedule this year he could release an album of covers next—I’d buy the hell out of that.
It had been a long time since I attended a rock concert like this, and I while I had a blast on Monday night and Hozier put on a great show, I remember now why I don’t go out of my way much for them anymore, especially for new, hot artists. Hozier is so much more than the pop machine through which he’s currently being fed. That voice—swoon! I think he has real, natural talent and depth that you just don’t really see much in pop anymore.
But, you have to play the game, and you “have to give the people what they want,” as the saying goes, so Hozier did just that. He played every track off his debut album, plus a couple of extras associated with the album, in exactly the way you hear them on the album. I just wanted a bit more performance-wise—he’s obviously got the guitar and vocal chops, why not rock a wailing guitar solo or two? Why not spice up a last chorus with some melodic variance? Of course, that said, I don’t know him and I don’t know whether he likes or wants to improvise at all, but I’d be surprised if not given his propensity for traditional blues, gospel, and old-school soul and R&B.
He was really fantastic in person, and I loved seeing more personality come out in his live show (and I LOVED that he totally ignored the ridiculous, desperate shouts of “I love you, Andrew!” “I love you more!” HAHAH shut down!) He was classy, charming, and an excellent showman. If you have a chance to catch Hozier on tour this year, don’t hesitate!!