Hozier ascends to unreal heights at Hollywood Bowl

Hozier Hollywood Bowl 2023 mainbar press

Irish singer Hozier capped the U.S. leg of his Unreal Unearth Tour with a final stop at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday night, delighting fans with songs from August release, Unreal Unearth which inspired the tour’s name, plus others from 2019’s Wasteland, Baby! and his self-titled 2014 debut. Throughout 21 songs, which included collaborations with two of his producers, Daniel Tannenbaum on “Eat Your Young” and “First Light”, and Jeff King on “First Time” as well as a very special closer, the delicate “Work Song” featuring Madison Cunningham, who served as the tour’s opener. Hozier gave high praise to Cunningham on his experience with her and also took the time to applaud his various musicians, crew and tech who he mentioned totaled over 50 people.

SoCal native Madison Cunningham had a lovely Bowl debut, showcasing seven songs with organic folk-rock song “All I’ve Ever Known” with twinkling guitars and she followed it up with a sort of indie rock-flavored “Pin It Down”, sung with conviction. On “Hospital”, the singer-songwriter got a little funkier with really great bass and pleasant background vocals, blending with her own pretty, soulful songbird moments. “Holy shit, we’re at the Hollywood Bowl, can’t believe it”, said Cunningham. I was reminded of the time I came to see Florence & the Machine almost 10 years ago and thought I want to do music like that”. Fluttering guitars and timeless folky vocals colored “Broken Harvest”, complete with a passionate wail that had the crowd cheering and applauding along as the keys and drums pounded. The emotional pull was felt on the Best Folk Album Grammy winner’s “Life According To Raechel”, written about her grandmother with the lyric “too busy, too stressed out to take your call”, perhaps all about some regrets. The timeless ballad had enchanting moments that brought to mind Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Alanis Morissette’s best. Cunningham and her band (of the last four years) nailed it on the indie rock instrumentation of “Subtitles”, with her wonderful falsetto and concluded with “In From Japan”, a bright and hopeful song with more pretty falsetto moments.

All photos by Ruth Medjber

Hozier‘s headlining set was rich with vocals, instrumentation, glorious lighting and some beautiful use of tree roots for some depth and shadows, truly setting the experience for his earthly brand of soul-rock-meets-folk blues. Nine new tracks made the cut, opening with the “De Selby (Part 1)” and “(Part 2)”, simply taking the stage with his guitar, stars on the stage behind him as his gentle falsetto crept in. Hozier’s deep notes were just as rich and purposeful, string instruments added some texture and lots of background vocals from several of the eight other musicians who rocked out, taking the two-part song to its rock moments by “De Selby (Part 2)”, Hozier’s voice hit some otherworldly heights and the Hollywood Bowl arches filled with spiraling reds. The Bowl was lit up in various colors for the blazing “Jackie and Wilson”, sounding like the classic that it was always meant to be.

“It’s such a pleasure to be here”, said Hozier. “If you happen to know this one I’d love to hear you on it”. The timeless “From Eden” was next, and it ages so well with the vocalist soaring on these vocals. “This is such a special show for me, on so many levels. This is the final show of our US tour. He gave a shout to his band and to Madison Cunningham and mentioned much of his most recent album was recorded in Los Angeles. On “Francesca”, the organ opened with Hozier’s voice, the most pure and powerful vocal so far of the night while lots of purples enveloped the stage. The soulful rock song felt like some sort of aircraft was about to take off, with big sound and lots of blended vocals, while roots emerged above the stage, trickling down over the musicians.

Hozer talked about the 17,000 pairs of lungs in his presence, and he had the crowd echoing his “oh-ohs”, signaling that the folk-rock crowd-pleaser “To Be Alone” was next, a song in hindsight that seems like the build-up to “Take Me To Church”. The song has a spiritual element with its drumkick, a mysterious instrumentation that is somewhat tribal and pounds away in epic bliss, as Hozier shouts to the heavens on the love song. The equally organic rock tune “Dinner & Diatribes” had numerous band vocals backing the star, followed by a really incredible jam session, rapid clapping from the musicians with the fans following and Hozier whipping his mane of hair out of his face before slaying the vocals. The band clapped on the downtempo of “Movement”, picking up with pure and well-placed runs from the singer as rotating white lights hit the indigo and blue colors, making it even more magical.

The singer talked about one of the first songs he ever released about 10 years ago, “Cherry Wine”, alone on acoustic guitar with some vivid red lighting and a moon behind him. Hozier’s diction was so clear on this, a reminder that he excels on moments when his guitar skills are blended with vulnerable melodies. “I, Carrion (Icarian)”, based on the Greek mythological tale of Icarus was full of incredible harmonies, it was poetic and Hozier’s Irish inflection was heard here, accompanied by stunning strings from Kellen Michael Wenrich and Larissa Maestro on violin and cello, respectively. The strings were also special on “Like Real People Do”, weaving their way into stunning harmonies on the perfect folk song with background oohs and gentle guitar strums cementing the pace of this one. Producer Jeff Gitelman joined the band on newer tune “First Time”, a delightful soulful rock and roll song with extra flavor from the organ.

“Would That I” had another tribal element that made it stadium-ready with solid harmonies and an infectious call-and-response, making it a standout in the set. Though Brandi Carlile did not make it as a special guest for “Damage Gets Done”, background singer Kristen Rogers impressed on her part of the duet, infusing her voice effortlessly with that of Hozier, topped off by a guitar twinkle and a catchy drum pulse. The band’s clapping syncopation was alluring on “Almost (Sweet Music)”, another phenomenal ensemble moment of the night with hot organ and Hozier shouting out numerous band members. Producer Daniel Tannenbaum took the stage with the band for R&B/soul groover “Eat Your Young”, with nice falsetto moments and the roots vanished from above, while beautiful colors lit up the screen like the we were all experiencing an upside down. Tannenbaum stuck around for another new one, “First Light”, a bright, optimistic pop/rock tune with big drums and equally massive notes achieved by Hozier. “Take Me To Church” felt very elevated in terms of instrumentation and background vocals and the stage was lit with a white fire lighting effect, along with red and white lights for extra impact.

Encores at the Hollywood Bowl don’t always happen, but Hozier had three more in him. After the Bowl’s arches were lit up like a rainbow, drummer Rory Doyle kicked off “Nina Cried Power” and the band entered. Hozier talked about his admiration of Mavis Staples, her family’s impact and their speeches during the Civil Rights Movement, making comparisons to rights in Ireland. “Mavis, to me embodies the poetic expression of a revolution of a world we would much rather live in”. He talked about Mavis, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Nina Simone and moved the crowd yet again. The band picked up halfway into “Unknown/Nth” following Hozier’s beautiful vocal and amazing guitar solo. He introduced every band member and all of their instruments, thanked the crew, the tech, mixers, lighting and production staff and so many more. The final song was “Work Song”, one of Hozier’s most hauntingly beautiful ballads, kicked off by the strings. Madison Cunningham was invited back on stage and their collaboration was like a folk-rock dream come true.

Words by Michael Menachem
Photos by Ruth Medjber