Hozier (Andrew Hozier-Byrne) took his congregation to church on a mild Sunday night and provided his own unique service. It featured his gospel, soul, pop signature sound that would have made Aretha Franklin, Jackie Wilson, Nina Simone, Mavis Staples and the king of soul, James Brown, give a nod to a sound of yesterday, mixed up with a modern splash of pop and rock.
But it was Hollie Smith who kicked off proceedings, showcasing her amazing voice and hints of days gone past. A perfect fit for what was to follow. The only disappointing aspect was that many of us missed much of her set because of the long line of punters trying to get in, caused mainly because of the extra security set up for the night.
I was able to make it in for the last three tracks and Hollie’s, voice along with Marika Hodgson on bass, stretched the incredibly awesome sound set up, with hoots and hollers from the growing crowd. Smith finished off with the Don McGlashan remake of Bathe in the River, which was well received from the crowd who genuinely appreciated the local talent.
Time to get a hot dog and a beer, then Hozier hit the stage with, what turned out to be, an accomplished backing band and singers, counting no less than seven talented artists in their own right. Together they made an incredible impact by sight and sound.
A quick wave to the audience and he launched into Would That I, Dinner and Diatribes, and the very moving Nina Cried Power off Wasteland, Baby! his second album and only release since his 2014 self-titled debut. All three songs were led by his gospel soulful voice that thundered around the stadium with many, if not all, singing along to the new tracks like they were staples from his back catalogue.
He then took a breath, as did the audience, and thanked them all for coming out to see their final gig of the tour. It was clear right from the start the band knew this was going to be a special night and were smiling and really getting into the show for the last stop of a whirlwind tour.
Hozier made special mention of his love for our small islands, much like his own home, and the love and friendliness of New Zealanders. Normally you hear this and think yeah just like all the other places you have been, but there was a genuineness that came across and you knew he really meant it.
Someone New and Angel Of Small Death and the Codeine Scene, off his debut album, got everyone singing along, with the former and then the latter delivering the gospel church sound. Slowly building up with the whole band kicking into top gear and really driving the show along the southern back roads of the deep south.
It’s really easy to think Hozier is from the States and not Ireland. The band too was a great mixture of English, Irish and American artists, including two keyboard players, backing vocal singers, bass, drummer, lead guitar and violin player with most mixing it up and playing different instruments during the course of the night.
A huge nod has to go out to the sound engineer. I have not heard the arena sounding as good as this for some time. The vocals were clean and clear, as was the acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Wasteland, Baby! was an excellent example of this, where Hozier drew inspiration from the Doomsday Clock that was ticking two minutes to midnight in 2016.
Another little ditty that Hozier came out with was the story of the Shrike. This small hunting bird kills its prey then hangs the carcass up on any kind of hook (branch, barbed wire etc) before it devours its gain. He decided to turn this into a great love song, a task most mortals wouldn’t be able to carry off, but he did.
Jackie And Wilson was a stand out for me. A great nod to some wonderful shadows of the past, before closing the set to the worldwide hit Take Me To Church. The stadium choir was in full voice and I think it may have even moved our church an inch or two in the process.
The crowd, which was made up mostly twenties and thirties, lifted off the roof wanting more. In due course Hozier came back, initially by himself, to play a delightful wee ditty called Cherry Wine, which really caught my ear and heart. With whispers of Nick Drake, the torches on phones came out, with many couples tightening their grip ever so slightly.
Then the band returned and they closed with Work Song, which carried a slow beat, reminiscent of the old prison gangs busting up rock in time, in a vain attempt to make the task more bearable.
Hozier is not your typical frontman: he lets his voice do that better than most, and, by the look of the punters leaving the pews, the faithful got their souls filled by a man and band at the top of their game.
I suspect when the church of Hozier comes calling again the patronage may be even greater, thanks to those spreading the good word from tonight. I know I’m among the converted.