O2 Academy, Oxford
21st January 2015
Irishman Andrew Hozier-Byrne’s career so far has been characterised by slow burn. A former member of the Irish choral group Anúna, he dropped out of a music degree at Trinity College Dublin to sign a development deal with Universal Ireland, sang with the Trinity Orchestra (big on the festival circuit apparently) and was also involved with an avant-garde bossa nova group and a soul-funk-rap group (haven’t we all).
His ultimate aim, however, was to be a singer-songwriter, and he retreated home to County Wicklow to write what became his eponymous album, with Rob Kirwan picking up his demos and co-producing. The title track of his debut EP, Take Me To Church, was released in September 2013; nominated for the Song of the Year Grammy, it’s still in the UK top ten tonight – the first night of his extensive 2015 tour.
Hozier’s musical bases have been a slow burn too – hundreds of years in the making. The faith-based background of both gospel and the Anúna congregational choral vocal sensibility underpins the night; blues is the other main reference point, most overtly in To Be Alone and Work Song, with soul, folk and jazz interacting variously. The sexual and religious themes of his biggest hit so far pervade other songs, like Foreigner’s God and the lulling 5/4-time From Eden, sung from the devil’s point of view.
Hozier and his band – including a cello – use dynamics and contrast beautifully; delicate vocals float over a menacing rumble in tonight’s opener, Like Real People Do, and the anguished tone of Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene works masterfully with its simple backing.
He does admittedly veer towards tired Commitments-esque arrangements at times, but Hozier’s strength lies in his contemporary interpretation of – and obvious love of and respect for – blues, soul, folk and jazz formats.