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Concert Review: Hozier Enchants Saratoga Springs

Hozier visited the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on May 19.
Hozier visited the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on May 19. By Courtesy of Hannah E. Gadway
By Hannah E. Gadway, Crimson Staff Writer

On May 19, Irish singer Andrew Hozier-Byrne, known simply as Hozier, visited the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York for his Unreal Unearth Tour. The concert was Hozier’s largest ticketed show in the United States to date, with 25,000 people in attendance. The venue, nestled within Saratoga Spa State Park, paired perfectly with Hozier’s echoing, ethereal vocals, and his enchanting performance proved that the artist can make any show feel personal.

As Hozier entered the stage, a blue light filtered down from the recesses of the venue, illuminating him in a shining halo. He began the show with a slower melody — “De Selby (Part 1),” a gentle, rolling song that shows off his vocal range. Then he launched into the loud guitar and stronger vocals of “De Selby (Part 2),” as the light flared to show his backing band and a larger screen projecting his face to the crowd. The show continued to fluctuate between down-to-earth and more driving tracks, highlighting the tonal range of Hozier’s work.

Throughout the concert, Hozier’s crowd work was endearingly awkward. After nearly every song, he would politely thank the crowd for singing along, a habit that made every tune feel participatory and vital to the show. He also specifically nodded to how the crowd had contributed to the popularity of his latest hit, “Too Sweet,” acknowledging the fact that it was his first number-one hit due to its large streaming numbers.

Hozier also attempted to work a pun into his show, calling Saratoga Springs “famously, the invention site of the modern-day mattress,” before muttering, “I’m just fucking with you … ‘springs’ … oh, Jesus,” wincing his way into his next song.

Not every interaction was quite as difficult, though. During the stripped-back and heartbreaking song “Cherry Wine,” he allowed the sprawling crowd to sing back the chorus, a powerful sound when echoed in the SPAC amphitheater. The singer smiled as he asked the crowd, “Can we do that one more time?” The crowd roared with delight, and as camera lights flashed like flames in the dark night and concert-goers crooned the lyrics, the vast venue felt nearly cozy. Hozier’s bond felt the strongest when he allowed his music to connect him to the audience, making his concert feel close and personal even when the crowd was tens of thousands strong.

The concert’s lighting, stage design, and choreography also felt most natural when stripped back and focused on highlighting Hozier’s lyrics and voice. Although the lights accentuated the first section of the concert, the rest of the show mostly used lights to highlight Hozier’s backing band when they had different solo performances. The stage design was sometimes more complex, with the main set piece consisting of giant roots that first lowered from the top of the stage during “Francesca.”

The venue’s screens also echoed this imagery by projecting “Unreal Unearth” album art and natural images behind the singer throughout multiple songs. The simple images reinforced Hozier’s lyrical focus on cycles, beauty, and vulnerability. For the most part, Hozier also kept his movements simple. He stayed relatively stiff throughout his performance, standing steadfastly by his microphone.

Clad in a trim gray suit and clearly focused on hitting all of the notes in his vocally complex songs, Hozier seemed to take care to make sure every song was able to tell its unique story. This attention to detail felt appropriate, as the true marvel of a Hozier show is his ability to make even his greatest hits feel like a fresh tale told directly to each audience member.

Hozier also made his lyrics truly hit home by accompanying his songs with more direct messaging. For example, during “Take Me to Church,” a song that Hozier has long associated with his advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights, he draped a pride flag over his microphone. During the encore, Hozier took a moment to acknowledge the meaning of his song “Nina Cried Power.”

He explained that he was inspired to write the song by the strength of the civil rights movement in the United States, and in turn hoped that the song would inspire empathy in others and highlight his support of women’s rights, peace in Palestine and Ukraine, LGBTQ+ rights, and general love and support amongst mankind. His speech made “Nina Cried Power” feel all the more raw and emotional in the moment, showcasing that these insights into the meaning of his songwriting are an essential part of Hozier’s live shows.

Although the Hozier concert at SPAC was not overly produced, it was still a spectacle of lyrical and vocal talent. Hozier’s show at the iconic venue was a testament to his ability to enchant audiences of thousands with music alone.

—Staff writer Hannah E. Gadway can be reached at hannah.gadway@thecrimson.com.

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