The Everlasting Bliss of Hozier

The lights dimmed and the sold-out crowd roared as the opener glided onto the stage. Angie McMahon introduced herself to the audience. She stood alone under the hue of a violet light embracing nothing but her guitar and vocals. The drums held a placard of her name but remained drummer-less. She began to strum softly as background noise to her conversation with the audience, people she was speaking so familiarly with, almost as if we were long-lost friends. “I wrote this song about love because I thought it was going to solve all my problems,” she said with a thick Australian accent. “I was about five years younger, and I was wrong.” These words were what introduced her song “Soon” with her singing so passionate and brooding, while her expressions while singing showed the anger she had kept hidden inside for so long. She referred to her songs as “moderately sad” and she wasn’t wrong, but the emotion in her voice brought the light to something so dark and heavy. I had never listened to nor had I even heard of Angie McMahon before these tender moments of sharing her vulnerability with a room full of strangers, but I could tell that her music was the kind where if you listened intently, you would truly feel her pain as if you experienced it yourself.

Angie was a bit awkward, but incredibly personable and seemed so comfortable on stage. “I write my set list on my hand… sometimes I have funny jokes to tell but I can’t think of any.” She let out a chuckle and the crowd laughed along. This lighthearted moment shifted into a more serious dynamic in her introduction of a cover of a Fleetwood Mac song. She spoke of indigenous people and native communities with the utmost respect and how thankful she was to be able to play on what once was such sacred land. She moved into the discussion of equality and how everyone deserves to feel safe in this world. She spoke with ease and comfort and began to tell a more personal story of her own experience of a bad date, where the man sat and spoke about uneducated things. “I spent my whole date gently discussing the basics of feminism, I just wanted to eat my pizza.” This experience inspired her song “And I am a Woman”, a song that sent chills across the room from her power of taking ownership of who she is and how no matter who someone is, they have the right to be safe. After this, she thanked the crowd and exited the stage. The lights came up and reality set across the theatre once again, anticipation rising as the clock ticked on towards the time Hozier was scheduled to take the stage.

About thirty minutes pass and the lights dim once again all the way to black, only hearing the excited screams of fans ready to see Hozier. The hum of the music began and the lights slowly brightened only to a single red spotlight, highlighting the Irishman in all his glory. He sounded almost exactly the same live as he had on his album. “As it Was” continued and the lights rose even more to unveil a plethora of musicians and background singers, Hozier’s army of musical success. His sound was haunting and overtook the theatre, leaving patrons in awe at his sound. Without stopping to speak, “As it Was” ended and transitioned into “Dinner and Diatribes”, a more upbeat tune that sent those in the orchestra section on their feet. Due to the steepness of the balcony, only about six enthusiastic people were standing and dancing to the beat. One of these brave souls was a petite woman about five rows in front of us, looking to be in around her late thirties. She allowed herself to be one with his music and dance freely, despite others around her remaining in their seats. She ebbed and flowed with the sound, belting every word. She had no embarrassment; no fear of what others would think. No matter her age, this was something she was going to remember forever.

My chest rattled with the bass, poignant among the other instruments. “Nina Cried Power” echoed in the theatre with the background of the stage displaying imagery of flags branded with “resist” and war-stricken countries fighting for the peace they so longingly desired. A break between songs finally arrived for Hozier and he addressed the crowd. He referred to those in the orchestra as the humans, the ones in the mezzanine as the demigods, and us in the balcony as the gods. “What is it like sitting up there with the gods?” he asked. But it was he who was the god walking among the humans; his fans worshipping the ground he walked on.

A few songs passed in an enchanted daze and a moment came where he asked everyone to put their phones away for a song that had yet to be released and “Be present for a moment”. His request was unique because he wanted to make sure those who would be attending future concerts on this tour would have the same experience we would be having; listening to the exclusivity and magic of a brand-new song. He wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be having their first listening experience through the internet and the crowd abided, putting their phones away for the time being. The intent listeners in the audience were hypnotized by his sound because this was something that, in addition to not being released, hadn’t even been demoed yet. This moment was incredibly raw and intimate between Hozier and the crowd.

Moving back into the setlist, Hozier introduced “From Eden” by discussing politics and war-torn grounds that riddled the world around us. He specifically spoke of the pro-democracy protests in Morocco and Hong Kong and expressed his unity. A softness overtook the crowd as “From Eden” began, and there was a certain peacefulness in his voice that comforted the audience; it made me feel almost at home. The depth of his voice is so soft and warm. It was welcoming and enigmatic, but also indicated a once painful past and heartbreak that brought him to this moment. Shifting into a more conversational tone, he began to discuss a book that he was looking forward to; a book by a North Carolina State University professor about the five most likely ways the planets will come to an end. His message after talking about this: “Don’t sweat the small things.” This conversation transitioned into the song “No Plan” with the background of the stage showing a sun slowly running out of power and being swallowed by darkness.

“Almost (Sweet Music)” begins to play and the crowd erupts into cheers and passionate singing along to the song. The musicians all have a solo in the performance, despite those not being included in the actual song. This included the likes of the pianist, violinist, and the guitarists, and it seemed more along the lines of a living room jam session as opposed to a sold-out concert. It was a personal moment between those on stage and those in the audience. “Movement” began, and a sense of drama and intensity overtook the room. The sound exuded power and was an absolute showstopper. I could feel the music in my veins, as if it were something that I was born to be a part of. The white laser lights lit up the theatre in waves and were the perfect effects to go with the song.

“Take me to Church”, Hozier’s song that launched him to stardom was the closing song, prior to the encore of course. This was the song that everyone knew and sang along so loud you could hardly hear Hozier. I felt so lucky to be able to exist in the same time and space as Hozier, as well as the fans who I now had so much in common with through our voices collaborating. We were a family that was just meeting for the first time. The strobe lights and the defined drum beat kept the crowd on its feet long after the performers left the stage. The crowd longed for an encore, just a few more songs to keep them musically fed for the rest of their lives. Hozier and the band rejoined the stage, smiles branded on their faces at the roar coming from the people in front of them. The crowd swayed back and forth to “Cherry Wine” trickling from the speakers. Finally, he sang “Work Song” as the actual closer of the night, bringing back out Angie McMahon to join him in singing. Their voices meshed together like a match made in heaven. The lights flashed white and gold, a symbol of happiness in the listeners. It was happiness that I felt. Pure, untouched and unmatched happiness. In the end, you can replace CDs or music streaming platforms, but you can’t replace the feeling of a true concert experience.