SEATTLE and OAKLAND — When an artist comes out with a strong debut album, one hopes there’s not a long wait until they release the second. For Ireland’s Hozier, it felt like a long wait between his debut in 2014 and his recently released EP, Nina Cried Power. While the EP may just be a tease for his upcoming full-length second album, his shows at the Fox Theater in Oakland and the Paramount Theatre in Seattle this week proves that it’s been worth the wait.
Hozier wore his love of soul on his sleeve, and the sets in both cities (which were nearly identical) were packed with stomping blues and bursts of gospel. “Nina Cried Power” came second in the set, and while Mavis Staples—who duets with Hozier on the record—is irreplaceable, the backup singers did justice to the song’s hard gospel push. The poppy blues of “Jackie and Wilson” fit well next in the set, and the slithery rhythms of “From Eden” proved a nice break before the driving stomp and gospel vocals of “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene.”
During one audience participation portion of both nights, Hozier asked the crowds to get as loud as they possibly could. But then, naturally, he had to clarify that he wanted “structured noise,” before leading fans in the soaring chorus of “To Be Alone.”
The shows were not a full-blown tent revival, however. Hozier balanced the driving songs with gentler ballads. He showed off the latter side on songs like “Like Real People Do” and “Cherry Wine,” which he performed solo. New song “Movement” was a standout, with his band silhouetted among beams of light, drawing an audible gasp from the crowd in Seattle.
His first hit, “Take Me To Church,” was an expected audience sing-along, although we wondered if Hozier doesn’t already sound a little weary of singing the song.
On his first U.S. tour, in 2014, Hozier threw an out-of-left-field cover into the set: Amerie’s “1 Thing.” This time around, it was a slow-jam version of “Say My Name,” by Destiny’s Child. After introducing his band of international musicians, who hailed from Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S., the crooner closed the show with one last bluesy gospel moment of “Work Song.”
“It’s a joy to be back in your outrageously beautiful city,” he told the Seattle crowd.
Fellow Irish countrymen Hudson Taylor opened the shows with rollicking folk-tinged pop. The band, led by brothers Harry and Alfie Hudson-Taylor, sounded like a more fun version of Mumford and Sons. “Old Soul” was one of several highlights, starting as a quiet solo performance before building to a full-band finish. The brothers also mentioned that they’d done some of their recording in Seattle.