Hozier is, at least according to tonight’s support act The Last Dinner Party, Dublin’s ‘forest father’, which, as it happens, kind of feels right.
The Last Dinner Party aren’t too shabby themselves. Amongst the most hyped breakthrough acts of 2023, their hollow-horny baroque pop is reminiscent of Arcade Fire if they chucked their mellow moments in the bin. Fronted by the boisterous Abigail Morris, whose strut feels like a core part of their show, tracks like ‘Sinner’ and ‘Nothing Matters’ have been blessing indie airwaves throughout 2023, and are performed with the kind of emphatic punch that almost seems designed to ensure they’re impossible to ignore.
There’s clearly the early makings of something superb here. Memorable corners include the switch to Aurora Nishevci on lead vocals to perform a gorgeous ode to her difficulties with her mother tongue (Albanian) entitled ‘Gjuha’ and the emphatic finale and breakout single ‘Nothing Matters’. The five-piece, whose ‘Prelude To Ecstasy’ debut record is due out early next year, do still feel like they’d be a lot better getting right in your face in a smaller venue (something they do at The Workman’s Club later in the evening) than they are trying to strut the extent of a stage like the 3Arena’s, where Morris’ overblown stage antics can feel a little contrived, but they’re absolutely certainties to be stars.
While The Last Dinner Party perform with little in the way of backdrop, Hozier’s stage backing videos are stark and a core part of his set. While the footage plays the band on stage focusing on the sound rather than being showy, and open, as they do on latest album ‘Unreal, Unearth’, with ‘Selby’, both parts. It’s a dramatic start, and one that sets a tone: the album is riddled with references to Dante’s inferno, and internal and external emotional exploration that’s grounded in the idea, seemingly, of being buried, perhaps in hell’s circles.
It’s heavy, and for much of the set, Hozier seems a little lost in his own world as he performs, producing a note-perfect reproduction of the album that has a depth and drama that can’t quite be captured on record, lifting the quieter corners of the recorded version. The two ‘Selby’ tracks feature a video backdrop of the same man in multiple forms, with one of the characters eventually killing off another, a message, seemingly, of kind of evisceration of a part of the soul. Later, roots drop from the ceiling, creating a cavernous feeling stage, a dingy ‘underground’ location that gives Hozier the earthy feel it feels like he’s reaching for.
Things can be quite heavy then, between the messaging and the sound, especially with a fuzzier backdrop in place, and in darker tracks like ‘To Be Alone’, and ‘From Eden’. There are also moments of relative levity that give a balance: early tracks like the superbly hooky ‘Jackie and Wilson’ and solo-acoustic number ‘Cherry Wine’ feel like throwbacks and glances at a lighter side of life in amongst the fiery headiness. That dark meets light feel has become a calling card for Hozier, who has also assembled a sensational band around him. They shine, in particular, on the headier moments, like ‘Eat Your Young’.
The setlist more broadly is a career-spanning exploration, even if thematically it feels closely linked to ‘Unreal Unearth’. It all builds, perhaps inevitably, to ‘Take Me To Church’, which is closes the main part of the set, and is delivered live as an emphatic LGBTQ+ anthem, a fiery shot at the church establishment displayed across the stage backdrop with no doubt left as to Hozier’s intent.
It takes a while for the band to return for the encore, and when they do, Hozier delivers an extended speech about being good to each other, a fitting intro to ‘Nina Cried Power’, on which backing vocalist Melissa McMillan offers up an absolutely sensational aping of Mavis Staples vocal element in a powerful set highlight.
In that context, closer ‘Work Song’ feels like a bit of an anticlimax, and after over two hours on the stage, Hozier and his band’s simply offer deep bow in farewell, though not before rising ‘above ground’ as they dispose of the roots from the stage ceiling and appear in a sunny field instead, a brief moment of emotional levity to close things off during penultimate song ‘Unknown/Nth’.
In both his stage setting and his video backdrop, Hozier’s show has comfortably risen to a ‘performance’ the very thing that elevates arena shows where the band is a distance from most in attendance. He’s also vocally exceptionally – remarkably so, in fact – and smartly blends career-spanning tracks into the storytelling elements of his most recent record.
All in, this is an act that feels, despite Hozier’s finest moment arguably coming early in his career, like it’s still growing, with a fine international band around Hozier and, tonight a seriously warm welcome from a hometown crowd. All signs are there’s still more to come.