A sell-out crowd at Belsonic witnesses a solid performance from an artist who has transcended initial industry buzz to become a genuine star.
This is the world we live in now. Once the final support act Little Green Cars (frontwoman Faye O’Rourke pictured below) finishes their set it becomes “selfie-stick” time in the crowd. Andrew Hozier expressed dismay in an interview earlier this year at, “the very fact that an instrument (the selfie-stick) exists at a music festival so that you can take pictures of just yourself … the whole point of live music is to enjoy the experience and you take yourself away from that.”
But this is Belsonic after all, and as the festival has gradually shifted towards booking more commercial dance-orientated acts so has the demographic. For many in attendance, being seen to be there is just as important as being there. Although the lack of local artists in this year’s line-up is a disappointment, the man from Wicklow was an obvious headliner. Almost a year since its release, Hozier’s self-titled debut album still sits in the upper reaches of the album chart.
The challenge for a single-album headliner is to satisfy an audience expecting at least an hour’s worth of material, and also to manage the expectation of when they are going to hear your biggest hit. Like the album, Hozier’s set is front-loaded with upbeat tracks such as the singles ‘Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene’ and ‘Jackie and Wilson’. One noticeable difference from the album is that the intricate backing vocals are a lot higher in the mix tonight, adding a more baroque sound to poppier songs like ‘Something New.’
The band are all in smartly-dressed black, in contrast to his denim shirt and ripped jeans. The self-confessed “gangly introvert” keeps his interaction between songs light and minimal, thanking his friends from support acts Little Green Cars and Wyvern Lingo several times throughout the night before bringing them out onto the stage during the encore. Keyboardist Queeva throws some Stevie Nicks shapes at her side of the stage throughout, while the rhythm section steadily stops and starts behind the front man. Hozier tells the crowd that cellist Alana Henderson is performing in her adopted home city tonight, as he introduces their duet on ‘In A Week.’
The pace sags a little midway through the set. A solo performance of a favourite blues tune by Skip James, learned during his youth, is impeccably delivered but fails to overcome the rising chatter. Similarly, a full-band cover of ‘Problem’ by Ariana Grande is mildly diverting but feels like a reluctant concession to festival crowds. His own material is delivered with much more conviction, such as the obvious set-closer ‘Take Me to Church’ which is still a striking reflection of post-Christendom Ireland North and South. However the highlight of the evening is ‘From Eden,’ a soaring mix of sweetness, yearning and self-loathing, with echoes of early-1970s Van Morrison.
This reviewer first saw Hozier perform live at a sold-out King Tut’s in Glasgow fifteen months ago. Back then his talent was clear to see, but not so much his subsequent rise to global stardom. As the predominantly late-teens/early-twenties crowd tonight sing back fatal lines like “We are deaf, we are numb, free and young and we can feel none of it” you can see how Hozier’s lyrics resonate with a generation born into comfort and easy consumerism, but now resigned to “the art of scraping through.” He sings these contradictions with romance and soul, and if that’s enough to help you along why not make a night of it with your friends? Jonny Currie
Full photo set by Alan Maguire – also including Wyvern Lingo – below.