If you could tell when a smash hit would beckon the start of a successful, sustained artistic career, you’d have the music industry wrapped around your finger. For every ‘The A Team’ from Ed Sheeran or ‘Bruises’ from Lewis Capaldi – both of which were boosted by huge viral success on YouTube and TikTok, respectively – there’s a Gotye ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’. (The Belgian-Australian singer’s huge track actually arrived some way into his career, but it dwarfs every other release that it practically marks a beginning).
Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church’ was one such tune that dramatically altered the fortunes of its thoughtful, unshorn lyricist. Written in the attic of his parents’ home in County Wicklow, it took the Irish singer-songwriter from struggling musician to performing on major US late-night talk-shows, Grammy nominations, induced a bidding war between major labels for his signature and was the lead single to his high-charting eponymous 2014 debut album.
But Hozier has been far from a momentary musical flash in the pan; and under the clear skies of Alexandra Palace’s outside venue, his sold-out show was a chance to indulge in the grandiosity of his catalogue – from the track that commenced it all, to his third studio album, Unreal Unearth, set for release next month.
In fact, as though laying down a marker for where he stands now, Hozier kicked things off with the recently released, falsetto-rich ‘Eat Your Young’. A songwriter who’s persistently explored religious themes and iconography in his work, Hozier has explained how his forthcoming album loosely uses Dante’s Inferno as a framework; this opening tune representing gluttony, and no doubt whetting our appetites for more.
Then marched a triple whammy of debut album throwbacks: the rock verve of ‘Jackie And Wilson’, the sliding majesty of Fleet Foxes-like ‘From Eden’ and prowling, pared-back power of ‘To Be Alone’. By the time the last of these hit in particular, with the track’s weighty subject matter around addiction, you took stock of just how soaring Hozier’s range is and – yes, it’s overused – but effortless too. His cries of “It feels good, girl, it feels good” were rich and bodied, as was his wailing into the evening London air.
Rather sweetly, he used ‘Like Real People Do’ to make way for another voice, bringing opening act and Ivor Novellos Rising Star winner Victoria Canal onstage. The pair’s vocals harmonised well on the folksy Irish number, and made you hope that the fruits of Canal’s UK and European tour support for Hozier will also extend to a collaboration in the studio.
Bar a few moment’s technical troubles, with Hozier joking about there being “a lot of protests in London and my guitar is one of them”, the show proceeded without a hitch, as light faded into dark, the roaring Wasteland, Baby tune ‘Would That I’ rolled into the love-bomb of ‘Someone New’.
The Irish troubadour also delivered ‘De Selby Parts 1 and 2’, having released the second part earlier that day – a track that hints at something marginally as-yet-unheard from Hozier, with its disco-funk edge. And following a smattering of tunes ‘Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene’, ‘Almost (Sweet Music)’, ‘Movement’ – which were impressive, albeit relatively samey in their languorous tone, especially delivered at such a final-third part of the set – we were thrown ‘Take Me To Church’.
Of course, being so well-known, its mammoth delivery was placed shrewdly among the setlist: as far in advance to mark respect for the rest of his catalogue, and just prior to the interval, to save room for more. It was ultimately all you could ask for as a Hozier fan, being given a classic without it overshadowing anything else.
Likewise, the encore had a well-considered concoction of old and new, with acoustic debut album closer ‘Cherry Wine’ preceding Unreal Unearth newbie ‘Unknown / Nth’, where Hozier sung into two mics: one that delivered his signature powerful range, and the other, used sparingly, to offer subtle distortion. ‘Work Song’ was a curious way to end things. Its gospel-blues is stirring but not as impassioned as some of Hozier’s other tunes, landing us neatly to the show’s conclusion, rather than wrapping things up in fire and fury.
At the final curtain call, Hozier resembled a boxing champion, raising the arms of his fellow musicians who he’d admirably spent a while introducing beforehand, including multi-instrumentalist Larissa Maestro and bassist and “the band’s M.D.” Alex Ryan. His sense of respect for his bandmates was genuine and heartfelt. Here’s an artist who takes very little for granted, and whose third album we needn’t have to wait much longer for now.