Immanuel Presbyterian Church
Andrew Hozier-Byrne took me to church last night. (There, I got that out of the way.)
Cheesy as it may seem, it made perfect sense that the 24-year-old singer-songwriter from Ireland would perform a sold-out show in a house of worship. After all, his self-titled debut was driven to the No. 2 spot in the Billboard charts by the bluesy, gospel single "Take Me to Church." The song, which talks about the hypocrisies of the Catholic church, was showcased by a video that featured a hate crime against a gay couple. It became a viral hit with more than 13.5 million views on YouTube and propelled a significant buzz around Hozier that culminated in last week's guest spot on Saturday Night Live.
Luckily, Hozier delivers — both on the record, and, as I was to find out, live. There were high expectations of the night as soon as audiences stepped into a building, which offers regular Sunday services when it doesn't double as a concert hall. With its 80-foot vaulted ceilings, beautiful stained glass windows, art deco chandeliers and marvelous acoustics, Hozier's set was destined to be transcendent.
With the 1,750 people in the audience sitting reverently in the padded pews, Hozier began hesitantly, plucking off notes to "Like Real People Do," its slow, easy rhythm a teaser that would build up the excitement to poppier songs such as "Jackie and Wilson" and "Someone New." Hozier's catchiest songs are the ones with melodic pop hooks such as "From Eden" — a tune written in quintuple time signature that is as sassy as it is savvy. But his roots are in the blues, and in the rockin "Angel Of Small Death & The Codeine Scene" and "To Be Alone," he showed just how well he could meld genres without coming off as insincere. Of course, in the quiet spaces of the church, Hozier's most successful renditions were the ones where he sang alone — either on the terribly sad and gruesome duet "In a Week," the simple "Cherry Wine" or on the cover of a Skip James song. On "Illinois Blues," Hozier stepped off the stage, and, sans mic and back up band, bellowed out the Delta singer's modern classic in the middle of the aisle.
In the Gothic church, Hozier's voice rang out as pure and clear as a bell, and I caught more than one person seated by me tearing up at just how dreamy it all was. Oddly enough, the night's one disappointment was the famous single. On "Take Me to Church," Hozier was alternating between pitchy and flat; the whole song felt like it was being phoned in. Still, he reigned it back in admirably on the cover of Amerie's "One Thing" and a perfect rendition of "From Eden."
And maybe that is Hozier's appeal: his music contains a little bit of everything, packaged in a manly-yet-sensitive package of a handsome, lanky European in a curly-haired bun. All of his songs go down easy, and there's nothing to dislike. It's a little bit bluesy, a little pop, somewhat folksy, somewhat rock. If there are imperfect moments, who cares? That's what live shows are all about, right? Amen? Amen.
Overheard: "Look at all these girls crushing on Hozier. There's not a dry seat in the house."
Critic's Bias: I may or may not be one of those girls crushing on Hozier.
Random Notebook Dump: The Immanuel Presbyterian Church may be a fantastic venue but parking in KTown sucks.
Like Real People Do
Angel Of Small Death & The Codeine Scene
Jackie and Wilson
To Be Alone
In a Week (feat. Alana Henderson)
Take Me To Church