- 01 Jul 23
Hozier has taken on the world and won. Now, with the release of his third album Unreal Unearth imminent, he played his biggest ever solo show in the stately environs of Malahide Castle, on the north coast of Dublin. It was, as it turned out, a powerful climax to a magnificent series of gigs.
It has been quite the fortnight at Malahide Castle, with music of marvellous diversity spun out across a magnificent seven nights of concerts. Depeche Mode, Paulo Nutini, Blur, Sam Fender, Florence + The Machine and Sting (with Blondie bringing the added oomph) have all strutted their stuff in the period grounds of the old Talbot homestead.
And judging by the ecstatic reviews for each gig – including, it must be said, via the sterling reporting of Hot Press writers, who have been in situ every night to witness the magic descend – each act has performed spectacularly.
For the final night, it’s the turn of Hozier, one of the Big Four Irish acts to have achieved a No. 1 album in the US –for fact fiends, the other members of that very exclusive and highly distinguished club are U2, Sinéad O’Connor and Niall Horan.
Hozier’s 2019 album Wasteland Baby! was his green jacket into that head buck-cat quartet. And with the release of his highly anticipated third album Unreal Unearth later this summer, 2023 is set to keep the Hozier bullet train rolling.
It is mid-set – while introducing ‘Cherry Wine’ off his eponymous debut album – that Hozier confesses that tonight is the largest ticketed solo show he’s done to date. As it transpires, ‘Cherry Wine' is the only song for which his astonishing band (more of whom anon) leave the stage completely to him. “It’s just little old me,” he says, "so if you know the song, I would like to hear you.”
No fear of this audience staying schtum Every single person in this singular field in Malahide is spirited, rapturous and only want the best for Hozier. In fact, they sing almost every word – and not just of ‘Cherry Wine’, but of every single familiar song that Hozier throws at them. And, you know, it doesn’t take a genius to see why. Hozier is an exceptionally nice guy – and, indisputably, his now decade long catalogue packs some wallop.
Oh, and he digs guitars, I mean, he really digs guitars. His guitar tech must be one of the hardest working dudes in the game. He hauls some diverse clatter of instruments on and off the stage throughout the set, usually while Hozier’s ridiculously brilliant band play musical chairs. An octet of masterful musicians, one apparently as dextrous as the other, they swap places and instruments with extraordinary ease at almost every song-break, and sometimes even during songs.
But, let’s take it from the beginning. Dressed in denim tailored jacket, grey vest, loose britches and white Chuck Taylors, Hozier kicks off with ‘Eat Your Young’, the lead single form his most recent EP (Hozier loves EPs), that dropped on Paddy’s Day this year. It possesses a remarkable vocal. We gamely try to keep up with him, but fail miserably.
We welcome ‘Jackie and Wilson’ like it’s an old mucker of ours, sing along to the wondrously named blues rocker ‘Angel of Death and the Codeine Scene’ and swing happily into another newbie ‘Francesca’, a song about two lovers who’ve been condemned to a circle of hell and are glad about it, as long as they are together: it's a dedication worthy of Normal People protagonists Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron.
Hozier points out – and then the camera zooms in on – members of the Ireland Senior Men’s Rugby team, Killer Kilcoyne, Connor Murray and Jack Conan among them, all apparently in great spirits. “What a blessed sight that is,” Hozier says, and the audience yell their approval.
Across the song-duo of ‘To Be Alone’ and ‘Dinner & Diatribes’ – in a magnificent piece of sorcery – Hozier and his ridiculously talented band reconstitute themselves as old Delta blues-hands. The crowd love it. Perhaps for many of them it’s an introduction to the world of the blues; then again, perhaps not. They seem a discerning bunch. Either way, it’s damn good.
We plough into the Philly soul of ‘Nobody’. The crowd bellow it out: “You know it is twelve o'clock in Soho, baby/ It's gin o'clock where I wake up/ I don't know/ I think about you though/ everywhere I go.”
Night is falling, clouds are rolling in, time to unleash ‘Someone New’. The crowd’s enthusiasm is contagious. “Go and take this the wrong way,” they thunder, "You knew who I was with every step that I ran to you.” Yeah! And then a music education is delivered via ‘Almost (Sweet Music)’ with all its talk of Chet, Duke Ellington and Ella’s ‘Stella By Starlight’ and ‘Night and Day’.
At show’s end, Hozier introduces the band. Well, to be honest, he goes way beyond introducing them, telling us where they are from (Nashville, New York City, Dublin, Kerry), listing what instruments they have played tonight (an index!) and their achievements (composers, arrangers, songwriters). It is very respectful, informative and mannerly and shows the mark of the man. He thanks the superb support acts The Teskey Brothers and the wonderful Alison Russell – who appears on stage with him, playing organ on ‘Through Me’ and again complete with smashing costume change for the encore.
We’re getting primed now for you know what.
Hozier prepares us with the gospel soul of ‘Movement’, reminiscent of Neil Diamond’s ‘Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show’. Malahide is now a ragged tent, here on the edge of town, the mob begging for deliverance. Hallelujah! Waves of energy roll across the crowd, in full-blown ecstasy now. And then like a matador committing the final act, Hozier unleashes his debut single, ‘Take Me To Church’, the one that started all this mayhem, going from a bedroom demo to global chart-topper in almost no time at all.
Man! Like I say, it’s been quite the fortnight at Malahide Castle, but this must be the ultimate transcendental moment of all. New Ireland howls:
“I was born sick, but I love it
Command me to be well
A-, Amen, Amen, Amen
If I'm a pagan of the good times
My lover's the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice
Drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That's a fine-looking high horse
What you got in the stable?
We've a lot of starving faithful
That looks tasty
That looks plenty
This is hungry work”
Tens of thousands of phones light the night sky, a million mirror images bounce about, and then something wonderful occurs. People calmly stroll, singing their anthem, into the Gold Circle and nobody bothers to stop them. There is no crush, people wait for one another and in their hundreds, they wander in closer to Hozier, this incredible artist at the centre of the flame – and what was a magnificent concert reaches a mighty crescendo, before the final notes die into the night sky.
Amen. We are spent.
Amen, amen, amen.