“Musicians should not play music. Music should play musicians” – Henry Rollins
At the Royal Oak Music Theatre this past Saturday, Irish singer/songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne, performing under the name Hozier, fought to keep Rollins’s haunting words true. Self-described as a “gangly introvert,” it isn’t surprising that Hozier doesn’t find himself most comfortable in front of sold-out crowds who, ebullient with praise and appreciation, want nothing more than to know everything about him.
Andrew quietly wandered onstage last Saturday night in Royal Oak, and with little hesitation began to strum out the first chords of “Angel of Small Death & The Codeine Scene.” And so the night began, following a completely organic, un-calculated formula from beginning to end: the immense musical and lyrical talents that introduced “Take Me to Church” to popular culture. His overt awkwardness contrasted with the cookie-cutter star ‘role’ he is supposed to play as a highly-sought singer in the pop-culture circuit, the figure of Andrew Hozier-Byrne is an unintentional juxtaposition.
His lanky six-foot-five-inch frame and booming voice compensate for Hozier’s otherwise amateurish stage presence. But the move from song to song was delicate and fluid, moving from his opener to his second single off Hozier, “From Eden.”
“Innocence died screaming, honey, ask me I should know/I slithered here from Eden just to sit outside your door” sings all the present lips, as if minions to this gigantic creature towering before us all, mimicking each guttural or passionate emphasis the beautiful Irishman sings. Lined with depth, variety, sensuality and a casual biblical reference, the lyrics provide a story that is universally accessible without losing its immediacy.
The music continued without a word from Hozier himself. Throwing an electric guitar over his shoulder, Andrew and his equally talented surrounding band descended into one of the album’s best, “Jackie and Wilson,” singing of a Bonnie-and-Clyde-sort-of-girl who builds up a man’s dreams only to disappear upon finishing her cigarette. And everyone once again is singing along and feeling the almost tangible emotion laced through the song and it becomes inexplicably clear that this man need not talk nor describe his talents – he’s just here to play. None of that Hollywood, cookie-cutter pop-star nonsense here: the music is playing this musician.
But to avoid an influx of negative assumptions regarding Andrew’s shyness, he does converse with audience by endlessly praising their presence and support. In a thick Irish accent he provides context for his next couplet of songs, like the experience of “love at its most vacuous” that inspired his most recent single, “Someone New.” Bouncing from a bluesy and folk sound as he vacillates between an acoustic, electric and steel guitar, Mr. Hozier-Byrne establishes himself and his literary lyrics as the constant and the music to be the ever-changing, ever exciting, but always excellent variable.
Hozier’s choice in cover songs for his Royal Oak performance were incredibly indicative, once again, of the immense attention he pays on music over all else in his occupation. His first cover of Skip James’s “Illinois Blues” was beautifully jaunting and then perfectly juxtaposed by an encore presentation of Amerie’s “1 Thing.” From country blues to ’90s pop, Hozier clearly adores this music and effectively beckons his audience to feel the same, breaking the two very different songs down for his audience so that they can enjoy it too.
The night ended magically as his set’s last song began with the proposal of a man to his girlfriend. And with her confirmation, and Andrew’s congratulations, the night ended ever so sweetly with the deep whisper, “In the low lamp light I was free/Heaven and Hell were words to me.”
Leaving the concert, it was unclear whether Hozier’s stardom is sustainable. His currently massive pool of fans wouldn’t dissipate for lack of talent, but rather perhaps for the critical differences Hozier places upon himself. Hozier did incredibly well, holding combinations of sensuality with pleads of social change like those present in his largest hit, “Take Me to Church.” But awkwardness, although at times endearing, doesn’t always appeal to the masses. Hozier’s propensity for sustained success is held in the balance by his next album. And maybe this wheat and chaff separation is necessary; perhaps it will act as the opportunity to separate the “Take Me to Church” fans from the enamored or obsessed. Nevertheless and despite the unknown nature of his future, it was invigorating to witness Rollins’s prolific words embodied modernly.