The Baltimore Sun: Hozier powers through the rain at Merriweather Post Pavilion

28 Jun 2015

The Baltimore Sun: Hozier powers through the rain at Merriweather Post Pavilion

22nd June, 2015

Storms could not stop Hozier at Merriweather Post Pavilion over the weekend.

At 8:45 p.m. Saturday, the night looked bleak.

It had been half-an-hour since opening act The Antlers left the Merriweather Post Pavilion stage in Columbia, and according to announcements, another 30 minutes before Hozier would appear. Meanwhile, a thunderstorm raged above, drenching the crowd on the lawn and showing no signs of stopping.

After some impressive thunder and lightning, though, the worst of the storm passed by 9:15, and Irish singer-songwriter Hozier appeared to trade concertgoers’ rain-soaked blues for his brand of blues-influenced rock.

Born Andrew Hozier-Byrne, the singer is best known for his first single, 2013’s anti-establishment “Take Me to Church.” The song, which ultimately peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, remains a far cry from its pop and hip-hop contemporaries.

With heavy lyrics and a characteristically slow melody, the song’s placement on Top 40-radio and his subsequent rise to celebrity surprised many, but perhaps no one more than Hozier.

“I never thought Irish radio would be turned on by my music – or any f—ing radio station, excuse my French,” Hozier told Rolling Stone in January.

At times Saturday, it seemed that the Irishman had not yet recovered from the surprise. He thanked the crowd profusely throughout the show, appearing genuinely pleased, if bemused, by their knowledge of even his most obscure songs.

Before launching into “To Be Alone,” Hozier asked the audience to sing notes back to him, attempting to teach them the falsetto bridge. The crowd echoed what he sang, then continued past where he had stopped. They didn’t need to 

“Whoa, whoa, just the notes I sang,” the singer said with a grin. “I’m kind of impressed you know the notes that follow those notes, though.”

Hozier is a commanding vocalist. His velvety tenor soars both on record and live, suggesting that perhaps his success isn’t actually all that surprising, as American and international audiences have been primed by the soul influences of vocalists like Adele and Sam Smith in recent years.

His balladry — influenced heavily by the southern, American blues of his Irish parents’ record collection — is unique, though. His best moments came during performances of stripped-down tracks, harkening back to the Delta blues sound: just a voice and a guitar.

During a cover of Skip James’ “Illinois Blues,” Hozier stood alone on stage, plucking the guitar strings with his two middle fingers. He tilted his head while he played and smiled, visibly enjoying the sound.

He seemed comfortable sharing the stage during larger songs, though, and his band (two back-up vocalists, a cello, keyboard and the expected drums and guitar) added to the performance. For Hozier, it wasn’t about putting on a show; it was about creating a sound.

He ran through his repertoire quickly, without fanfare or glitter, while rain provided a consistent background. During the sole duet of the night, he brought Alana Henderson, a fellow singer-songwriter who played cello the remainder of the evening, to the microphone with him for “In a Week.”

Before launching into the song, which was recorded on the album with Dublin-based singer Karen Cowley, Hozier described his hometown in Ireland, and the neighboring Wicklow Hills – an area you only hear about, he said, before or after “a body has been found.”

The two performed the song with little accompaniment — just two voices and Hozier’s guitar, freed somehow from the somewhat darker meaning of the recorded version. Onstage, the pair harmonized flawlessly, turning an album’s emotional low point into a high point of the evening.

It’s time for Hozier to embrace his newfound fame and as his fanbase expands. For a night when the Merriweather’s weather was “not too merry,” as he put it, the audience stayed – the persistence of the rain-soaked lawn guests serving as a testament to his rising popularity.

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