NOLA.com: Hozier tapped into the blues at the 2015 New Orleans Jazz Fest
26 Apr 2015
25 April, 2015
When the roster of the 2015 New Orleans Jazz Fest was first announced, producer/director Quint Davis said that Hozier, the Irish singer-songwriter whose “Take Me to Church” was among 2014’s breakout hits, “really, really wanted” to perform at the festival. During his late-afternoon set at the Gentilly Stage on Friday (April 24), Andrew Hozier-Byrne made that abundantly clear. At times he seemed as genuinely awestruck as his fans.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here,” he gushed. “How happy I am to be in this city.”
Over the course of an hour, he and his band – it featured a cellist, along with the more traditional rock band components – showcased most of his self-titled full-length debut, playing up the bluesier elements in the guitar work, the vast majority of which Hozier handled himself. He follows in the grand tradition of European musicians who are enamored of, and emulate, American blues. He described his fondness for early Mississippi Delta bluesman Skip James.
The haunted opening passage of Hozier’s “To Be Alone” is straight-up acoustic hoodoo blues. As it progressed, he finger-picked dirty blues notes on an electric, culminating in a brief, finger-tapped run up on the guitar’s neck; his long, thin fingers are well-suited to the task. Heavy drum strikes during the “It feels good, girl, it feels good, to be alone with you” emphasized the near-predatory intent.
They built momentum across “Angel of the Small Death and the Codeine Scene,” building up to a near-galloping rhythm and a chorus of voices, only to drop down again. He should off the strength and dexterity of his dramatic voice, not to mention his skill at marrying a clever lyric to a sly hook, in “Jackie and Wilson.”
“Someone New,” he quipped, was “tragically written by an ex-girlfriend.” The clap-along bounciness of the arrangement belied its bitter inspiration.
He covers the singer Amerie’s 2005 R&B hit “1 Thing” at concerts he considers to be an “occasion,” even though the lyric “it’s this one thing that got me trippin’” isn’t something he likely would have written himself. His first visit to New Orleans qualified as an occasion, so he and the band gamely navigated their decidedly un-funky take on “1 Thing.”
“Take Me to Church” was every bit as intense as in its recorded form, if not moreso. It speaks to a romance that borders on obsession, building methodically through the chorus to a big, ominous finish. The final “Work Song” continued in a similar vein: “No grave can hold my body down/I’ll crawl home to her.”
Earlier, he had introduced Alvin Youngblood Hart, the blues-based guitarist who now resides in New Orleans. “I have been approximating his style every night on this tour,” Hozier said of Hart. “It’s wonderful to get to stand next to him. Let’s see if I can keep up.”
The two of them stood alone onstage, Hozier with an acoustic and Hart with an electric. They picked their way through a fluent duet, finding common ground in a metaphorical Mississippi. “I don’t know about you,” Hozier said, “but that was a dream come true for me.”
The whole set seemed to be.