w/ George Ezra
The Ryman Auditorium; Nashville, TN
March 16, 2015
Review by Jacob Ryan (@GonzoWithGusto)
By now, it’s almost impossible to not know who Hozier is. With a smash international hit single, “Take Me To Church,” earning him a Grammy nom for Song of the Year, and the album sales that lead up to and followed that, he’s kind of a big deal. Such a big deal in fact, that when the Irish born performer first announced a show at The Ryman, then added a second night, both sold out almost instantly. He was given a third night, which just so happened to be St. Patricks day (cue the green beer), and he promptly filled that up too. Not bad for a guy who’s only released a few EPs and one full-length. We caught the second performance, on March 16, with fellow European hit maker George Ezra, and it was on par with a religious experience. Read all about it after the jump, and, if you missed out, don’t worry, Hozier’s playing Bonnaroo this summer!
I can’t emphasize enough how amazing The Ryman is. As a show-goer since the age of 13, attending events as a paying fan, for the blog, and sometimes even as a favor to friends, I have never found a better venue. The hype is deserved. Believe everything you’ve heard, and get your ass to a show there whenever you have the chance.
After a few over-priced beers on Broadway, we moseyed up fifth avenue towards the familiar red brick building. Going in on purchased tickets, instead of press credentials, I decided to bring a date instead of a photographer. We made our way to our seats with George Ezra already doing his thing.
An old man’s voice, akin to the likes of Johnny Cash, bellowed from the young, nondescript kid on the stage. Like the Man In Black, although maybe a little less prolific at this point in his career, Ezra sang with his trademark baritone bravado, and strummed out his super catchy and clever tunes. It impossible not the like his picking, which at times crossed into Bluegrass territory on another song he’s done named after a famous city, “Barcelona.”
Between tracks, when he took some time to do a story tellers bit, talking about the next song he’d be performing, he sounded much, much older than his twenty one years of age. The deep voice not matching his boyish face. After a few more numbers, and some impressive slide guitar, he told his next story in the now familiar, but heavy, English accent. The story was about missing a train in Budapest, and it followed with his big hit single of the same name. Before he could even play a note, the mostly female crowd was going wild.
After a trip to the bar, it was time for Andrew Hozier-Byrne and his six piece band to the take the stage, eager to do their thing. He walked from behind the curtains, man-bun blazing, and the ladies swooned… easily outnumbering men in the crowd 2-1. Immediately you notice his size. In an industry that seems to be dominated by relatively average to small sized individuals, his thin, 6’5 frame was a little imposing at the front of the stage. He would look more at home on an NCAA basketball court … well, until he began to sing and play his guitar of course.
From the first song, it was obvious we were all witnessing a truly secular talent. A man who writes his own songs, sings gospel level hems like an angel, and shreds blues guitar surpassingly well. Even rarer, a bona fide international sensation, more humble than most local-level heroes, who are so full of themselves the bullshit falls from their sleeves. There was absolutely ZERO pretense to Hozier or his band, and it was a breath of fresh air in a world where pop stardom often equals asshole personalities.
He played nearly the entire album front to back. Highlights, like his blues riffing on “To Be Alone,” and a beautiful stripped down duet with his cellist Alana Henderson, left me with continuously running chills in my spine. On a cover of a blues standard called “Illinois Blues,” he shocked me yet again with his well above average guitar playing. I didn’t expect that part of his skill set to suck, but he was much better than just adequate. Throw in the voice, and sometimes it just feels like life isn’t fair to us ’normal’ folk.
Between each song, he thanked everyone profusely, his quite and even shy demeanor off setting his cumbersome size. He was incredibly disarming, nice, and genuine; impossible not to like. Earlier in the show, he’d mentioned his upcoming third performance at The Ryman, which happened to fall on St. Patricks Day. Already cool for an Irishman in America, but throw in the fact it was also his 25th birthday, and you have mind-blowing levels of random awesomeness. Just before he could finish out his set, the crowd in the front broke into a impromptu singing of happy birthday, leaving the singer smiling ear to ear. We can only hope he got some celebrating in after the third show.
After a story about his native lands, he took us all to church in the Mother Church of Country Music. Surprising to no one, it brought the house down, with all in attendance singing along to one of the best songs to come out all year, last year. He returned for an encore, featuring a chill solo performance of “Cherry Wine,” and closed out with a fun medley, spanning the gamete of Ariana Grande and Warren G/Nate Doggs’ “Regulate.” When he sang the iconic ‘When you smoke like I smoke’ lines from the hip-hop classic, everyone couldn’t help but smile. After the band took their bows, and the house lights came on, Hozier spent a solid 15 minutes, bending down to shake hands and sign a few autographs for people in the front row- a stand up guy for sure.
Overall, I was blown away. I knew Hozier could sing, and I love his self-titled debut album, but his guitar work was what I walked away with being most impressed by. That and his total lack of ego. It really felt like he was just a man enjoying himself up there, and he’d didn’t seem to care if he was doing it for a small crowd in his home town, or on a sold out U.S. tour. Be sure to see what I’m talking about live, this summer on The Farm. It was a cool ass show from a cool ass dude, and I can’t think of a better way to spend a Monday night.