Back after a four-year break since his wildly popular, self-titled debut album, it is no surprise that Irish troubadour Hozier has somehow managed to sell out two nights at Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo despite his recent lack of activity.
The final two UK dates before embarking on four shows in his native Ireland, Andrew Hozier Byrne’s 14-song (plus three-song encore) set trod that very fine line between indulging the classics and showcasing the new.
And for Hozier, it’s fair to say that while the new is not a wholesale departure from the old, it is a definite evolution in both sound and content.
The indie pop hooks are less of a priority, and in its place comes the southern blues and jazz influences that makes tracks like ‘Shrike’ and ‘Nina’ an absolute treat to hear live.
He made the fans wait a whole four songs before launching into ‘Eden’, but made it very much worthwhile as he delivered a more rounded, bluesy take on the staple.
While the man has clearly changed, there’s a respect there for what those songs have given him, and what he owes in return.
Indeed, perhaps the only bum note of the whole show was an off-target jazz lounge experimental version of ‘Someone New’, robbing it of its mesmeric melody and earnest singalong line. Maybe a result of him trying to move and evolve beyond those songs, sometimes it just simply doesn’t work.
The County Wicklow-born singer-songwriter leaves nothing spare in his live shows, ably supported throughout by an eclectic, multi-national six-piece backing band, plus the ever-present Santo.
With two backing singers from Nashville, a Margate-born keyboardist and Irish bassist, there was plenty of variety to be found outside of Hozier’s set list too.
It all feels to be building to the inevitable climax of organised-religion-protest-song ‘Take me To
For all the biting cold of the December night outside, there aren’t many musicians around capable of creating the amount of warmth that Hozier generates in his music.
His versatility is outstanding, happily switching from epic indie rock anthems to one-man guitar ballads and back again, knowing instinctively how to bring the crowd up and down again for the high-energy moments and those more intimate segments.
It’s clear that, for all its success, Hozier is determined not to simply try and recreate the radio-friendly hits of his debut, and is happy to push his music to the edges of southern blues and soul, to find deeper and different sounds.
For sure, it works a treat on the likes ‘Take Me To Church’ and ‘Eden’, and the trade-off for this experimentation may be the occasional dud like ‘Someone New’, with the jazz experimentation not quite hitting the mark but still eliciting a healthy singalong from the crowd.
While the old hits have aged superbly and remain infectious, the new material from 2018 EP Nina Cried Power are the best indicator of how far the long-haired troubadour has come in the near half-decade he has spent in the public consciousness.