It’s Thursday 25th April and Hozier (real name Andrew Hozier-Byrne) is playing to a sold out crowd at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne as part of his Wasteland, Baby! Tour. Supported by Australian artist, Didirri, this tour is the Irish singer-songwriter’s first time playing in Australia since 2015. It’s safe to say Hozier’s anthemic songs and once-in-a-generation voice were missed by us Aussies.
I’m a big fan of Hozier’s work, and just like everyone else in the room I’m beyond excited to see him perform live. Hozier’s first album, Hozier, was the soundtrack to my teenage years. And his sophomore album, Wasteland, Baby!, is similarly phenomenal, and is his first album to reach number 1 on the Billboard chart.
Hozier writes the type of songs you need to experience live. They’re not made to be listened to through headphones, but felt with your whole body. And as I walk into the Palais Theatre, my body is ready.
There are people of all ages and genders filling up the seats. I spot an older couple in the front row, a middle aged man dancing to my right, and excited teenage girls behind me. There is no hysteria in the crowd, the whole room is chill, patiently waiting for the show to begin.
The lights dim, as Didirri takes to the stage with just an acoustic guitar. He stands in the middle of a single spotlight, asking the audience,”who the hell let me in here?,” before launching into his first song. It becomes apparent within seconds that Didirri has every right to be playing the Palais Theatre, as his soothing voice fills the room.
3 years ago Didirri was busking around Melbourne, when Australian musician Jordie Lane invited him to support him on tour. The very same day Jordie asked him to go on tour, Didirri was fired from his job at a factory. Now he is recording his first studio album, after releasing some EPs and singles, and he is opening for Hozier. It’s all a testament to his talent.
As Didirri performs, I’m struck by his incredible ability to make a room of 3,000 people feel intimate. It’s just him and his guitar, but he commands the room, pulling the heart strings of every single person. Making such a large gig feel intimate is a skill not many artists master, but only 3 years into a music career, it’s clear that Didirri has something very special.
Part of the intimacy Didirri creates are his casual chats with the audience in between songs. He draws laughter and applause from his witty, thoughtful comments. He dedicates one song to his ex, another to his mum (who is in the audience tonight) and Frida Kahlo, who he says is an inspiration because “she turned the most painful pieces of her life into art.”
It’s refreshing to have a performer be completely themselves on stage, baring their souls both through their music and their speeches.
Didirri introduces each song by explaining the inspiration behind it; one song was inspired by a long discussion in Amsterdam about unconditional love, another is about being afraid of death, and one was written as a letter to his ex. As someone listening to his music for the first time, these explanations are invaluable, allowing me to connect with him and his music more deeply.
After Didirri performs his final, hauntingly beautiful song, ‘Formaldehyde’, he says to the audience, “take care of each other,” the perfect ending to a show stopping performance.
Next up is Hozier. His 8 person band takes to the stage, before he emerges to rapturous applause and cheering. He takes up an acoustic guitar, opening his performance with ‘Would That I’.
‘Dinner and Diatribes’ is up next. Hozier’s band clap rhythmically at the start of the song, as he switches his acoustic guitar for an electric guitar. In the dark, I scribble in my notebook ‘his voice penetrates your soul’.
After Hozier plays ‘Nina Cried Power’, he finally speaks to the audience, who are all still seated. “The wood beneath you is merely a suggestion,” he says, prompting the entire room to stand up in time for his moving performance of ‘Someone New’.
Hozier’s music is made to be sung with a band, so it’s only natural that he has chosen talented individuals to join him on stage. Most people in his band play more than one instrument, alternating between them for each song. They play like a single organism, their cohesion is beautiful and seamless. The next performance of ‘Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene’ shows off the band’s incredible musicality. Hozier’s voice is perfectly complimented by the female back-up singers, and the addition of a violin in this performance is outstanding.
During Hozier’s next performance of ‘Nobody’, I realise that his music needs to be heard standing up. You can’t sit down and feel the music, you need to stand up and let the music flow through you. I wonder why no one in the room stood up before this, this is the only way to hear Hozier perform.
When he begins ‘From Eden’, the familiar lullabye-like melody travels up my spine. This performance feels like a slower version of the song, but I appreciate that this allows me to hear each of the perfectly crafted lyrics.
Hozier is a true lyricist, he is able to capture complex emotions and feelings with a phrase and a melody. ‘From Eden’ is a testament to this skill.
Hozier finally speaks to the crowd again, cheers from the crowd act as punctuation in his speech. “When I was writing this album, it was mid-2016,” he says, “the Doomsday Clock was set to 2 minutes to midnight.” A bit of background: The Doomsday Clock is maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as a symbol of how class the world is to destruction and catastrophe in terms of “minutes” to midnight. In 2016, there was supposedly 2 minutes until the end of the world. “I was writing a few love songs for the end of the world,” Hozier says, before starting ‘Wasteland, Baby!’, the title track of his sophomore album.
“I was writing love songs for the end of the world” – Hozier on his album Wasteland, Baby!
‘Wasteland, Baby!’ makes the audience fall silent, enthralled with Hozier as he sings. In this moment it feels less like he is a musician, and more that he is a storyteller, taking us on a journey into the worlds he creates in his songs. ‘Wasteland, Baby!’ allows his voice to ring through the Palais Theatre, it aches of loss and loneliness and has the growl of a life lived, a heart broken and an old soul.
Hozier’s next performances of ‘Shrike’ and ‘No Plan’ meld together. But ‘To Be Alone’ really gets the crowd moving. Hozier has swapped out his normal electric guitar for a different, more powerful guitar. The drumming during the show has been phenomenal, but during ‘To Be Alone‘ it is next level. At one point during the song the house lights go on and Hozier points at the crowd, urging us to sing a call and response back to him. It’s an awkward moment, because not one person sings back to him. He didn’t prep us for this, but moves swiftly past the hitch, successfully getting the entire crowd to sing back to him on his next attempt.
The next performance of ‘Almost (Sweet Music)’ is a true highlight. Everyone around me is clapping and clicking along with Hozier’s band. It’s one of his songs that lends itself to dancing, so everyone is moving and enjoying the music. During this song, each member of the band gets a special solo moment. It’s lovely when a big artist like Hozier allows members of his band to shine.
‘Jackie and Wilson’ is an obvious crowd favourite, and ‘Moment’s Silence (Common Tongue)’ also has the crowd rocking out. Hozier’s bassist does some serious headbanging during this song, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
During Hozier’s performance of ‘Movement’ I make a note of his gesticulations. He uses his hands to tell the story of the song, just like how people speak with their hands, Hozier sings with his hands.
‘Take Me To Church’, Hozier’s global smash hit, is up next. It feels as though the crowd takes one big collective breath in to prepare to belt out the song.
Everyone in the room knows every lyric to the track, singing them back to Hozier with enthusiasm and intensity.
It feels like we are all part of a choir led by Hozier.
Hozier and his band exit the stage to a cacophony of applause which continues and grows as he returns to the stage for an encore performance of ‘Cherry Wine’. This time it’s just him and an acoustic guitar on stage, holding the sold out crowd in rapture. Sweet, soft voices sing the words to ‘Cherry Wine’ back to Hozier.
His band returns for the final song of the evening, ‘Work Song’, a crowd favourite. Before the song begins, Hozier makes a point of introducing every single member of his band, thanking each of his guitar technicians, sound and light guys, stage assistant and managers. Then the crowd loses themselves in ‘Work Song’, clapping along to the beat. As the final hums of the song echo through the Palais Theatre, Hozier and his band take a bow and the crowd applauds.
Hozier’s performance was dynamic, electric and emotional. He lost himself in the music, and gave the audience space to do the same. Whilst I would have loved to have heard him talk with the audience more, I’m grateful that the show allowed the music to shine; he let his music speak for itself.
It will probably be another few years before Hozier plays a gig in Melbourne again, but the crowd in Palais Theatre on the 25th April will have the memories of his phenomenal performance to bide the time.
Buy tickets to the remaining dates of Hozier’s Wasteland, Baby! world tour here.
Stream Wasteland, Baby! here.
Catch Didirri on tour here.
See Speaker TV’s exclusive photos of Hozier’s sold out Melbourne show here.