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ATP! Live Review: Hozier - Trocadero Theatre Philadelphia, PA (11/01/2014)

Hozier’s American fall tour is undoubtedly one of the hottest tickets in the country. The majority of shows are sold out. Fans are clamoring to win the scant giveaways to see the singer-songwriter live.

Selling out a tour in a foreign country after only dropping one lonely single – and mostly on alternative radio, at that – is massive. It is intimidating. Most significantly, it is almost impossible to put on a show that lives up to the kind of hype surrounding Hozier. But the Irish artist managed to meet the frenzied hype around his album release, a self-titled drop that met almost unanimous critical success.

It is not entirely unsurprising that Hozier managed to surpass expectations on his tour, at least within the confines of the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia, PA. It was a cold and rainy night, the first day of November, and the city had been empty throughout the morning and afternoon. But the sidewalk outside the venue, on busy Arch Street, was completely packed with fans excited to finally see Hozier.

Lauren McCarthy was one of them. McCarthy, a fan of Jack’s Mannequin and Andrew McMahon’s solo efforts, said that she liked every song on Hozier’s self-titled release, a rarity.

“I really like his sound as well,” McCarthy said. “It’s a bit acoustic, and the vocals are so relaxing.”

The first song McCarthy heard was the legendary “Take Me To Church,” which still remains her favorite. Nick Maiale, another eager face in the crowd, said that his favorites of Hozier’s also include “Take Me To Church,” but that he particularly loves “From Eden” and “Foreigner’s God.”

After seeing Hozier on Saturday Night Live, Maiale was taken in by how “genuine” the artist was.

“It was just him and his instrument,” said Maiale, who is also a fan of Fall Out Boy and Bastille. “I think Columbia [Records] really has a gem on their hands.”

Maiale said that Hozier has quite a future because he doesn’t think the singer-songwriter will ever want or have to “sell out.” Hozier, according to Maiale, will be able to continue “doing his own thing,” particularly with the way the music industry is changing to allow indie artists to become more mainstream.

The crowd seemed to reflect that idea – there were so many different kinds of people packed onto the floor and into the small balcony above. Children stuck to their parents’ sides and fathers stood next to their grown daughters as everyone collectively waited for the opener to hit the stage.

James Bay, an English artist with a growing fan base both back home and in the States, was a great compliment musically to Hozier’s set. Though the two artists possessed similar traits, like their untarnished authenticity and penchant for an acoustic feel, Bay was a bit more folksy and less rock-and-roll than Hozier.

Bay did a very admirable job of preparing a not entirely willing crowd for the headliner. Though the 23-year-old put on a good set, there seemed to be a missing connection between Bay and the audience. Talking was audible at all times, during Bay’s songs and in the quiet moments between. Despite this issue, Bay was one hundred percent enamored by the music and soaked up every moment had on stage. Ultimately, he provided a perfect segue way into Hozier’s set.

There is a certain level of intensity and immediacy and sexual urgency on Hozier’s album that simply does not seem conducive to being recreated. Each of his songs feel as though it was recorded at a particular emotional state that is so achingly genuine, it cannot possibly be redone.

However, Hozier seems to have developed a penchant for shattering and sailing past expectations, which he certainly did during his time onstage at the Trocadero. The songwriter sounds as good, if not better, than he does on his record, encompassing all of the nuanced emotions found there.

Hozier opened with the gently rolling “Like Real People Do,” using the softer tone to build into his set. His entire time spent on stage was meaningful and intense, connecting with the audience. It would have been difficult to hear a pin drop in the silent spaces of his songs; the audience was so utterly focused and taken in by the man before them onstage.

His backing band, too, was incredible, managing to reproduce the sounds on the album without it becoming a replaying of the record. Some particularly incredible moments were on tracks like the lustful “To Be Alone,” the dark beauty of “Sedated,” “Jackie and Wilson,” “From Eden,” and of course, “Take Me To Church.”

Members of the audience seemed to be so taken in by the Irish artist that they appeared to forget other people even existed in the room – Hozier was able to draw each individual into the tales he was spinning. It is particularly interesting to note that despite all the expressions from the crowd – the clapping that would not stop even when Hozier tried to speak, the repeated cheers and screams – he almost appeared confused that everyone was so in awe of his performance.

Though Hozier had an immensely powerful stage presence when in the middle of a song, the person he was between the choruses and verses was completely different than the person who spoke about taking photos for his record label or expressed his gratitude to the concertgoers. Calling Hozier a force of nature onstage is not an overstatement, but as soon as the song stops, he almost seems to hunch over, his speech suddenly full of pauses and repeated “erhm,” and he becomes exceedingly gracious and humble. At points, Hozier seems to realize that over one thousand people have packed into a theatre just to see him, and it is clear he is not entirely sure how to handle that information. It is stupidly endearing.

Of course, Hozier closed the set with “Take Me To Church,” which was a wickedly powerful performance that the entire crowd became hopelessly lost and entangled within. After a few long minutes of loud cheering, feet stomping, and chanting, Hozier and his band returned to the stage for an encore, giving a fantastic performance of “From Eden,” to the crowd’s delight.

The show as a whole seemed over in a heartbeat and the crowd was reluctant to disintegrate back into the rain outside. Eventually, the audience filed back onto chilly pavement, smiling sadly – as though they were keenly aware they would not see a set like Hozier’s anytime soon, but were grateful to have something so incomparable.

- Victoria Mier

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