Concert review: Hozier showcases his generational talent, unreal vocals in stellar performance
Dressed in a three-piece gray suit, Hozier strums on stage. The Irish singer-songwriter performed at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday night as part of his “Unreal Unearth Tour 2023.”(Courtesy of Randall Michelson / Live Nation-Hewitt Silva)
“Unreal Unearth Tour 2023”
Nov. 5, 2023 10:38 p.m.
Spanning a decade-long career, Hozier’s latest performance brought about a mighty reckoning.
Indie-folk darling Hozier and accompanying band members lit up the Hollywood Bowl on the final United States stop of the “Unreal Unearth Tour 2023” on Saturday night. Supporting the release of his August album with the same name, Hozier brought audiences along on a figurative journey to hell and back through his literary flair for poetics and classical allusions. Hozier noted humbly that his career began nearly ten years ago with the radio frenzy of “Take Me to Church” – an anthem that exploded him onto the music scene and cemented a stronghold audience in the queer community. His homages to both his Irish roots and revolutionary figures lend a historical perspective to his work – and his Saturday performance proves him as a singularly enduring artist of his generation.
Opener Madison Cunningham perfectly complemented Hozier’s folk stylings with her uniquely warbling voice, her high notes soaring in graceful wails on the choruses and her lower register supporting the delicate verses. Her complex guitar arrangements punctuated her short set with clear musical prowess, and her animated comments lent a personal tone in between songs. Cunningham recalled seeing Florence + The Machine at the Bowl as a moment of inspiration for her career – the exhilaration of taking the stage for herself was evident all the way to the back row.
After a short break, Hozier and his band took to the stage, a shimmering spotlight carving out the singer’s domain. Opening with the sequence of “De Selby (Part 1)” and “De Selby (Part 2),” the audience was immediately swept into the dreamy, cosmic space of love and legends. Complete with an outro sung in Gaelic, the Irishman eased audiences in through a delicate string arrangement to back up the singer’s plucked guitar and gossamer solo vocals before delving seamlessly into “De Selby (Part 2).”
Following with two songs from his debut self-titled album, Hozier’s energetic, welcoming presence brought out breathless singing and impassioned cries from the audience. Pleasing longtime fans and recent internet sycophants alike, Hozier moved through his older discography with practiced ease. His visible awe at the size and energy of the crowd gave way to polite, accented “Thank yous” in between songs before a few remarks of gratitude toward playing the final show of his tour.
The rumble of the crowd heated up when Hozier broke out “Francesca,” a ballad of sacrifice for the ages and a leading single from “Unreal Unearth.” Playing with noticeably increased momentum and fervor, Hozier’s crystal clear vocals and mournful electric guitar rang throughout the entirety of the outdoor auditorium. Soaring to heights far above the studio recording, Hozier delivered a serenade of true and earnest desperation for lost love.
Taking note of the massive audience once again, Hozier called upon the voices in attendance to sing the introductory notes of “To Be Alone.” Cheekily admonishing that there would be no judgment from the stage unless the audience sang the wrong notes, Hozier plucked the bottom string of his guitar as steadily as a heartbeat. After a few disjointed attempts, the singer conducted the audience in a lilting, bluesy call-and-response.
A standout of the night came with the momentary departure of the band, leaving Hozier bathed in starry light for an intimate rendition of the fan-favorite “Cherry Wine.” As the high-timbre, finger-picked guitar arrangement rang out, the bowl glittered with rapt attention until the singer asked for accompaniment from the audience. A single spotlight illuminated Hozier from behind, while a crescent moon-and-stars projection drenched the back of the nearly empty stage. The soft, trepidatious vocals from the audience seemed to adopt some of Hozier’s incessant politeness – with some left torn between wanting to sing the words for themselves and needing to soak in the aching gravity of the moment.
Neatly breaking the delicate tension of “Cherry Wine,” Hozier launched into an introduction of “I, Carrion (Icarian)” with an anecdotal retelling of the Icarus myth. Noting the infamous verticality of the Hollywood Bowl, Hozier remarked that in an elevated space, he found it fitting to tell the story of a figure who fell from a great height. Offering his own take on the myth, Hozier said he imagined the moment of Icarus’ greatest height to be so wonderful that he hadn’t thought to regret the fall. Honing in on the ephemeral joy of flight, Hozier sang almost in a whisper: “And though I burn, how could I fall / When I am lifted by every word you say to me? / If anything could fall at all, it’s the world / That falls away from me.”
Closing out the main set, “Take Me to Church” needed no introduction. The hunger and agony of the lyrics seemed fresher and more relevant than ever. After grabbing a Progress Pride flag from the pit, Hozier marched the stage with the symbolic fabric draped over his shoulder, making clear that the song remains nothing less than an anthem. The music video, featuring the persecution of a queer relationship, was projected in fragments on the stage’s backdrop, providing audiences with a punishing reminder of what progress has and hasn’t been made in the years since the song’s release.
Following a short intermission in which the arches of the Bowl were illuminated in a rainbow arc, Hozier and his band returned to the stage triumphantly. After thanking each band and crew member by name, the singer introduced the first song of the encore by paying tribute to the song’s featured artist and civil rights activist, Mavis Staples. Remarking that the American civil rights movement directly inspired the Irish revolutionary movements in the 1960s, the Irishman launched into the political roll-call of his and Staples’ “Nina Cried Power.” Spotlighting one of the band’s background singers in Mavis’ vocal part, Hozier seemed electrified by the back-and-forth nature of the lyrics.
To close the show, Hozier brought out opener Cunningham to duet “Work Song,” a steadily beating meditation on the sustaining power of love. Giving a nod to classic blues and spirituals, the chorus rolls repeatedly over pleading lyrics, “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.” After leaving the audience with a final goodbye, the glittering, connective energy of Hozier’s lyricism lingered over the air of the Bowl like a mirage.
Though Hozier’s reign over the bustling heart of Hollywood lasted only a few hours, the cultural implications of his work mark Hozier as a rare, shining, generational talent.