Last week I stood in Boston’s Boch Center Wang Theatre and listened to Hozier serenade me with his new album. His voice in person only solidified his unbelievable musical talent in my mind. Although I wasn’t surprised at how well he performed in concert compared to his recordings, I was still hit with a feeling I tend to get only at the best concerts; like the world doesn’t exist for a moment. I’m not exaggerating when I say I almost cried when he hit the notes in “Nina Cried Power” as videos of protests from around the world played in the background.
“Take Me to Church,” Hozier’s first single and his most well-known song, came out when I was 15 years old. It exploded in popularity around the world and was certified five times platinum in the U.S. I was obsessed with it. I memorized the lyrics word-for-word, sang the song in the shower and set it on repeat on my iPod touch (this detail is to put into perspective how long it’s been since we’ve heard from Hozier).
After Hozier released his debut album in 2014, his fans waited on their toes for his next move. But nothing happened. For over four years, Hozier released no new songs, no new albums and his fans barely heard a single word from him. There were posts on social media wondering where he went, including the idea that he was some kind of Irish forest being who had disappeared back into the wilderness. But Hozier suddenly popped back up in the musical world late last year with his EP “Nina Cried Power,” featuring a single of the same name, a protest anthem sung with blues legend Mavis Staples.
In March of this year, Hozier released his second album after months of hype following “Nina Cried Power.” And it almost made up for how long we had to wait. Hozier’s second album, “Wasteland, Baby!” exceeded all my expectations and in some cases exceeded the incredible lyrical and musical quality of his first. Each song made me wonder at his talent with words and his ability to make me press “repeat.”
When my roommate bought me tickets to his concert on Nov. 12, I could barely contain my excitement. Here was this man I had been obsessed with since freshman year of high school, and I was about to see him in person, performing some of my favorite songs of all time. Although I was a little nervous about hearing him in person—I’ve had my share of disappointments when artists who sound great in the studio don’t measure up in concert—my nervousness was nothing compared to my anticipation.
Angie McMahon, an Australian singer-songwriter, opened the show, her low, gravelly voice contrasting with her constant jokes between songs and the light vibe she drummed up for the audience. I always sit through openers with a tapping foot, waiting impatiently for the headliner. The best compliment I can give to McMahon is that she made me want to listen to her rather than look at my watch.
Hozier started the concert slowly, leading with his lesser-known songs and building up the audience’s excitement before diving into the intensity of “Nina Cried Power” and “To Be Alone.” In his rolling Irish accent, he spoke about protest music, about world issues and about his new upcoming songs, even playing an unreleased track during the concert. His bandmates—more than half of whom were women—flawlessly carried out his songs with back-up vocals, drums, guitar and an impressive violin/guitar player who drew the audience’s eyes with every note. Hozier himself switched off between acoustic and electric guitar throughout, a stage crew member handing him a new guitar every other song.
McMahon returned to the stage for the encore, beautifully accompanying him for “Work Song,” a lullaby-like track from Hozier’s first album. Hozier’s impressive 6’6” dwarfed McMahon, but their seeming physical imbalance did not transfer to their singing, as the sad but loving melody of “Work Song” flowed between them like a dance. Of course, Hozier also played “Take Me to Church” during the concert, prompting the entire audience to sing along, to the point that you could barely hear him over the voices of the crowd.
I cannot recommend Hozier enough. He released a new single, “Jackboot Jump,” at midnight on Thursday. Go listen to it, and “Wasteland, Baby!” Hozier is an incredible person and an incredible artist and, as I recently found out, he can only get better.