Concert Review: Hozier – Spark Arena, April 28, 2019

An intimate, powerful, and poetic set by Hozier drew both Spark Arena and its crowd close together last night, mixing folk, rock, and blues into a 90-minute tour finale.

It was fitting that Spark Arena had been reorganised into free-flow seating for the evening, with the upper stands drawn down and allowing attendees to move easily between the floor and seating areas. The crowd were some of the calmest and most well-behaved I’d seen in recent gigs, and it was reflective of the respect shown to both opening act, Hollie Smith, and the headlining Hozier and support band.

Smith opened with an unassuming comment on how she didn’t expect so many people there already, before falling into a short set that showcased her vocal range. Much of the set put the focus on her powerful, soulful voice, but there were also moments of brilliance in the dark blues, roots, and R&B tones present in many of her song choices. It was a pleasant and polite performance that managed to mix rainy-day blues with the nostalgia of open-air summer concerts, and did well to set the tone as a lyrically driven concert as a whole.

Supported by a seven-piece collective of multi-tasking musicians, Hozier’s performance was the final set of his most recent tour, and illustrated the difficulty of balancing poetry with pop music popularity. I imagine the best way to experience Hozier would be in a 200-capacity venue where there’s little expectation for a loud, booming rock gig, or a dance-all-night pop concert. While there were plenty of fan-favourites and accompanying crowd-clapping, the strongest moments came when it was just the one man and his guitar on stage.

Much of Hozier’s music is lyrically flawless, and the brief insights into the mind of the poet as songwriter were beautiful, albeit limited for much of the show. Hearing him speak on the complex and dualistic themes of pain and love in writing Shrike, and witnessing that same partnership of emotion bleed through on Wasteland, Baby and Nina Cried Power were easy highlights amongst the rest of the set.

Still, the power of an eight-piece is bringing a stadium-filling sound, which contrasted softer, slower songs with the howling, humming Angel of Small Death and The Codeine Scene, and hard, distorted rock-blues sound of Moment’s Silence and To Be Alone. In comparison, the beauty of Hozier as a songwriter and vocalist made fan-favourite Take Me To Church almost anti-climactic, with much of the raw power of the vocals poured into previous songs instead of the pre-encore closing number.

Being the final performance of their current tour, the band took a moment between the beautiful, solo-acoustic Cherry Wine, and slow-building Work Song to share a glass of whiskey in farewell to their tour photographer, with Hozier singing an impromptu version of Humour of Whiskey before launching into the final song.

It was a touching, genuine moment that captured the feel of the concert overall; an intimate, close-up presentation of the pain and beauty in poetic songwriting, and how often all you need is an empty stage and an acoustic guitar to leave the deepest, and most powerful, impression on a crowd.

Oxford Lamoureaux

Click any image to see a gallery of shots from the show, by 13th Floor photographer Rachel Webb


Hollie Smith

Would That I
Dinner & Diatribes
Nina Cried Power
Someone New
Angel of Small Death and The Codeine Scene
From Eden
Wasteland, Baby
No Plan
To Be Alone
Jackie And Wilson
Moment’s Silence
Take Me To Church
Cherry Wine
Humours of Whiskey (Crew Celebration and Farewell)
Work Song