Pinewood Bowl Amphitheater in Lincoln, NE
Hozier Delivers Deep Blues At Lincoln Amphitheater by Tiffany Cuthrell
Lincoln, Nebraska concert-goers were delightfully taken to the church of Hozier Friday night at the Pinewood Bowl Amphitheater.
Hozier has been touring the world for most of 2015 in support of his debut album of the same name. After making stops at New Orleans’ Jazz Fest, Tampa’s Big Guava Festival, and a recent homecoming at Longitude Festival in Dublin, the soulful singer is completing a long string of US tour dates before heading back overseas.
Hozier was born Andrew Hozier-Byrne, appropriately on Saint Patrick’s Day of 1990 in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland. His mother is a painter (she even painted the cover art for his album!), and his father was a drummer in a local blues band called Free Booze. It’s no surprise that Hozier has artistry and expression running all through his veins. Hozier grew up far out in the Irish countryside with a bad internet connection and Wicklow Mountain periphery. His early exposure to music was through his father’s vinyl and cassette collection. His favorite film was Blues Brothers, which he watched on repeat. It led to a love and exploration of the roots of African American music: Chicago blues, and on to Delta blues – the power of one musician and his guitar, jazz, gospel and soul. Hozier gravitated toward the likes of Nina Simone and Muddy Waters, as well as the timeless, raw sound quality of Vaudeville.[gap height=”12″]
At 15, he started teaching himself how to play guitar and writing music. At 19, Hozier dropped out of a music degree at Trinity College to sign a development deal with Universal Ireland. He began recording demos in his mom’s attic, and finally teamed up with Rob Kirwan, who is revered for his extensive work with U2.[gap height=”12″]
Hozier is most notably known now for his smash hit, “Take Me To Church”. Mr. Kirwan dared not touch the original soulful (wee hour of the morning) vocals that Hozier had originally laid, only adding original instrumentation to the song.
The song was initially released for free, so the upward trajectory and success of the song has been a welcome surprise for the Irishman. A large part of Hozier’s exposure has been due to the video going viral online. Not wanting the video to focus solely on the church, Hozier teamed up with a small Irish production company called Feel Good Lost to bring the song to life. The video portrays an example of an organization undermining love, a natural part of being human. It follows the struggle of a gay couple in Russia, being targeted for their sexual orientation. The video mirrors an actual campaign that has been prominent in Russia since being passed in 2013, that successfully oppresses and targets the LGBT community. The enacted law denies any LGBT members equal social standing, and labels their sexual orientation as unnatural. The open-for-interpretation song is intended to use the language of the Catholic church against itself as a narrative about loving someone. Clocking in 17 weeks on the Billboard hot 100, the song has become vastly inescapable. Hozier has played the hit alongside Annie Lennox at the Grammy’s (he also scored a Grammy nod for Best Rock Song), on SNL, and a myriad of other television spots.[gap height=”12″]
Hozier’s debut album sales and chart success have solidified him as anything but a one-hit wonder, topping out at number 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. Hozier’s self-produced first album is a sonically cohesive collection of 13 songs. With his debut, Hozier was aiming to make an album that people could enjoy, as much as he enjoys music. Infused with elements of soul, rock, folk, gospel, and of course, blues, the album is full of sentimental gems about falling in love, sexuality, religion, idealization, escapism, rape culture, and death (to name a few). Some heavy subjects are approached with a light point of view (cue Tom Waits).[gap height=”12″]
“Hozier” presents a mix of layered tracks full of anthemic harmonies, strings, piano, and even hand claps, as well as juxtaposing acoustic songs with only Hozier and his guitar. There’s even a nod to Motown great, Jackie Wilson with the upbeat tune, “Jackie and Wilson”. The final track, “Cherry Wine”, “a bit of a bonus” ballad about love within tumult ties everything together sublimely. It was recorded with a photographer on an abandoned hotel roof in Greystones, Ireland (he swears he wasn’t trespassing!). Those birds that can be heard in the background are real birds chirping at the 5 AM break of dawn.[gap height=”12″]
The beautiful Pinewood Bowl Amphitheater was buzzing with excited fans, anticipating the 8 PM start time. The absent-of-chairs venue consisted of a vast expanse of ultra green grass, surrounded by tall pine trees that were illuminated in blue and green light around the perimeter. The Friday night air was crisp and cool, with a strong hint of the coming autumn.[gap height=”12″]
Opening the show was Nate Ruess. With all 3 members of the band Fun focusing on solo ventures, the band’s frontman was starting off his leg of dates opening for Hozier with his backup band, the Romantics. Ruess is touring in support of his solo album entitled, “Grand Romantic”, which was released this past June.[gap height=”12″]
Concert goers were equally excited to welcome the Romantics – singing, dancing and clapping along under a vast array of colorful lights. The seven member strong band delivered an energetic performance, frequently criss crossing the stage, swapping microphones, and moving in unison to the beat in animated fashion.[gap height=”12″]
During a spirited cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, Nate Ruess propelled himself to the top of an amp, raising his hand up high to sing out the chorus. A symphony of concert carolers could be heard singing along to the Fun hits, “We are Young” and “Some Nights”.[gap height=”12″]
“You better get up, everyone!”, Nate commanded before “Some Nights” had concluded. The crowd responded, rising to their feet with fervor.[gap height=”12″]
Next to the stage was the statuesque Irishman. Starting off with the track “Like Real People Do”, Hozier set a mellow mood, illuminating the stage with carefully placed luminous light bulbs. Rounding out his layered sound with 6 other band members, Hozier continued with “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene”, heavily inspired by James Joyce’s “Portrait of a Young Man”, a reflective on self-discovery, and loving someone damaged. Many-a-fan could be heard singing along.
A few songs in, Hozier transitioned to a gorgeous cover of the Beatles’ iconic, “Blackbird”.[gap height=”12″]
Around the middle of the set, fellow Irish singer/songwriter Alana Henderson emerged from behind her beautiful cello to join Hozier in singing the peaceful duet, “In A Week”. Hozier explained the track as being a narrative on the scenic countryside of his native Wicklow.[gap height=”12″]
“When you hear or read about it, it’s often after the words, ‘A body has been found’. On that note, this next song is a love song about 2 people who wander off to do what lovers do best”. Continuously strumming and stomping and on the wooden stage, Hozier exclaimed at one point between songs, “I’m breakin’ the floorboards!”[gap height=”12”]
The undeniable crescendo of the night was when Hozier started into the hit “Take Me To Church”. Joyous fans echoed back the words as Hozier raised his hand in the air, and invited the crowd to do the same. A sea of camera phones and hands could be seen reaching for the sky.[gap height=”12″]
The band exited the stage, and seemingly every fan stuck around to cheer for more. Hozier returned to round out the night with the acoustic jam, “Cherry Wine”, a spirited “for fun” cover of Ariana Grande’s “Problem”, and finally, a crowd favorite, “Work Song”.[gap height=”12″]
Hozier is adjusting to his new found fame while gaining a reputation for his talent, powerful voice, and his gentlemanly demeanor. Having recently snagged 2 VMA nominations for “Take Me To Church”, it appears the accolades will keep rolling in for the 25 year old singer-songwriter.[gap height=”12″]
It seems this Irishman is going to be taking us all to church for a long time to come.
Gallery Photos by Tiffany Cuthrell