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Concert review: Hozier’s minimalist set lets music take the front seat in cemetery performance

Hozier took the stage at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for his “Wasteland, Baby!” tour. (Alice Naland/Daily Bruin)

"Hozier"

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Tuesday

By Kristin Snyder

June 20, 2019 1:56 p.m.

Hozier wrote love songs for the end of the world – it was only fitting he perform them in a cemetery.

The Irish musician took the stage at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Tuesday night, performing a set list which primarily pulled from his recent album “Wasteland, Baby!” Often simply standing in place with his guitar under shifting lights, the setting was modest, allowing light smoke and a gentle breeze to provide much of the atmosphere. While the show lacked theatrics, Hozier’s powerful vocals were fervent enough to wake the dead.

Prior to Hozier’s set, the New York-based family band Bailen performed numbers from their debut album “Thrilled To Be Here.” Their songs provided a jazzy opening to the evening, though many of them blended together in a series of similar notes and pleasant harmonies. Their final song, “25 for the Last Time,” however, provided a softer acoustic end to their energetic set, offering a welcome change from their fairly lackluster performance.

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Daniel Bailen sings and plays bass for Bailen, which also consists of his twin brother David Bailen and his sister Julia Bailen. The New York-based band opened for Hozier. (Alice Naland/Daily Bruin)

When Hozier finally emerged with the fast-paced number “Would That I,” he immediately set the stage for a simple performance, donning a dark blue button-down and playing an acoustic guitar. But despite the seemingly austere appearance, his energy throughout the intense song made it clear that the show would be anything but. Though slightly hindered by the guitar and microphone, he bounced to the beat, at one point dropping to his knees as he sang “Oh, hope you’re good to me.”

But Hozier quickly replaced his acoustic guitar with an electric one as he sang “Dinner & Diatribes” and “Nina Cried Power,” both of which established the night’s forthcoming emphasis on his unrestrained rock sound. For the latter, white lights flashed as he belted the word “power” and pointed to the sky. Throughout the night, the theatrics were simple, mostly consisting of the musician wandering the stage, making it clear that the focus was meant to be on the music.

In between songs, Hozier apologized for having to reschedule the event, which was originally scheduled for April. Graveyard jokes were abundant throughout the night as he jested with the audience.

“We had to work with the residents of the cemetery, but we got their blessing this evening,” he said.

For a few songs, such as “To Be Alone” and “Almost (Sweet Music),” the band and backup singers overpowered the lead singer, detracting from Hozier’s deep vocals. Consequently, it was his softer songs that stood out, providing subdued moments in between his more intense performances. “From Eden” was particularly striking as he began the song with just his acoustic guitar, with the rest of the band slowly joining in. Considering the simple nature of his performance, his set was best when it gave his bewitching vocals the attention they deserved.

The musician clearly put his spirit into writing his most recent album, which the tour is named after. Before singing the slow, tender song “Wasteland, Baby!” Hozier explained that the song was inspired by the Doomsday Clock being stuck at two minutes to midnight. As he approached the end of the world, he said he wanted to write love songs for the impending doom. With “Wasteland, Baby!” he said he wanted to explore the possibility of the last human act being one of kindnesses – eliciting “aws” from the audience, whom he called “a bunch of softies.” The performance added synths to the soft tune, adding a liveliness to the song as he stood just outside the lights and looked into the crowd.

The soft atmosphere continued into “Shrike,” which he said was named after a bird known for building nests among sharp objects – a creature he described as a “nasty, elegant little thing.” As he sang the song, the slight breeze blew the smoke around the stage, creating an ethereal moment amid the more intense rock songs. He maintained that atmosphere in the later song “Movement,” during which he strolled across the stage, occasionally bouncing and lifting his hands to match the song’s slow, sultry vibes.

He then performed his hit song “Take Me to Church,” though this version heavily emphasized the piano. He relied on the audience’s familiarity with the words, often pointing the microphone out to the crowd for them to sing along. If he had ended the set there, the night would have felt trite, implying that he still relied on his first major hit. But Hozier returned for an encore with “Cherry Wine,” an immediate shift from the prior, more intense song. Once again equipped with his acoustic guitar, Hozier’s vocals stood out as he strummed along to the mellow tune.

For his final song, Hozier welcomed Bailen back on the stage and brought out the band Haim’s Este Haim for a performance of “Work Song” after he individually thanked his band members. Their version of the song was joyful as the group danced around the stage, with Haim eventually bowing and pointing to the main performer. As the night came to a close, his performance was spirited enough to rejuvenate the dead.

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Kristin Snyder | Podcast producer
Snyder is the Arts & Entertainment editor. She was previously the Theater|Film|Television editor.
Snyder is the Arts & Entertainment editor. She was previously the Theater|Film|Television editor.
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