When Hozier booked his current American tour, his breakout single “Take Me to Church” had barely made a dent on the charts. Flash forward a few months later, and the small clubs Andrew Hozier Byrne and opener James Bay booked for a humble American debut can barely contain the throngs of fans hoping to catch a set from the acclaimed Irish songwriter.
Last night, Hozier played the first of a sold out, two night stint at Nashville’s Exit/In, performing on the heels of a newly announced headlining Ryman date set for March 2015. He began to what could only be called uproarious applause (about two minutes in, I made the mental note, “I will never forget my ear plugs again.“) with “Like Real People Do,” a gentle, building number off his 2013 Take Me to Church EP. “This is our first show on this tour to sell out in the United States,” he beamed, before playing “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene,” a driving blues from that same EP.
Hozier also played a handful of new songs from his upcoming self-titled debut album, including “Jackie and Wilson” and “Someone New,” the latter of which he introduced by laughing, “This is a fun one. It’s about love at its most empty and vacuous.”
A real highlight of the night was Hozier’s cover of Skip James’s “Bangling,” which he played, along with a couple other songs, solo on a nylon string guitar. Before beginning the song, he explained the major influence James had on his songwriting, an influence you can especially hear in his clear affinity for chicken pickin’ – while Hozier doesn’t miss a note when he sings, he’s also an accomplished guitarist.
At the end of the night came the moment everyone had been waiting drunkenly screaming for: “Take Me to Church.” Hozier and his band began the song with no introduction, as if it needs one, and the crowd reached a fever pitch, phones shooting in the air to record video so that all you could see was a hundred mini-Hoziers swaying along to his flawless falsetto.
While the crowd bordered on obnoxious at points (a girl used my head as a tripod for her phone; countless people had to yell at this one group of cougars who screamed “Take Me to Church” before every. single. song.), you can’t really blame people for their excitement. Nashville seems to have a knack for booking intimate shows with artists just on the verge of stardom, and last night’s show was no exception. With his seven-piece band (one that included background vocals from Nashville’s own Ruby Amanfu) crammed onto Exit/In’s stage, it was clear that Hozier is already looking forward to those larger venues, venues his first Nashville performance proved he more than deserves.