If we examine Hozier from a purely statistical standpoint, for the moment he is what Billboard classifies as a "one-hit wonder." That distinction is bestowed on artists who place one song in the Billboard Top 40 while the rest of that artist's single releases fail to trouble the upper regions of the charts. "Take Me to Church" peaked at number two in December 2014 and was certified platinum four times over. Since then, the singer has released four U.S. singles, the highest charting of which is the current "Work Song" which is bubbling under at 120.
While there are other Billboard charts like US Hot Rock Songs, Adult Alternative and Rock Airplay where "For Eden," the followup to "Take Me to Church," has scored nearly as high, the perception among mainstream America is that Hozier is still that "Take Me to Church" guy.
That is why placement of that one-hit in a live set is crucial. Artists who are sick of their big hit will usually program the one-hit early in a set, so as to get rid of the casual fans who just want to hear that song at the risk of not paying any attention to the others. Artists who want to prevent their audience from making a mass exodus for the parking lot will program it last in the set, with the hopes that giving the people what they want will eventually lead to well-earned encores.
Hozier needn't have worried about any of this. Right from his opening song "Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene" at Marquee Theatre, it was clear the sold-out crowd came to this Sunday church meeting with the utmost of devotion. You could hear piercing squeals of approval for every song the Irish musician included on debut album and even the odd EP-only track like "Arsonist's Lullabye." About the only song that received comparatively tepid applause was his cover of Skip James' "Illinois Blues." Hozier cited James as a pivotal influence (more cricket applause). Both guitar-wise and vocally, he was at his best whenever the blues was the backbone of the performance, like "It Will Come Back" which had him playing slide against the cello's groans, making for a weird baroque blues hybrid that felt unique and new. On the polar opposite, when he tried to evoke the blues in a playful pop song as he did on "Jackie and Wilson," he came annoyingly close to sounding like Jack Johnson.
One influence that's not commented on too much but becomes apparent after continued exposure to Hozier is early Elton John. It's not such a long way from "Take Me to the Pilot " and "Take Me to Church" when you consider that a lot of Hozier's melodies, like early Sir Elton's, have their roots in gospel and Hozier's baritone is not dissimilar to sounding like something off Madman Across the Water.
It should be noted that Hozier's had four females in his band that maintained that old-time religion feel. Tempering that strength was the weakness of his rhythm section (the dudes in the band). The bass and drums seemed to keep things on a dogged keel, never swinging, hardly ever adding anything of note, unless you are the type to leave a show remembering what a versatile timekeeper Meg White was. With a band that rocked and swung every once in a while, Hozier would've been operating at a higher altitude than he was. Instead he often seemed like a tethered balloon with only his guitar work and the cello doing most of the heavy levitating.
Just at the moment that you started to notice couples arguing late in the set (I spied two), I could imagine that it was about the dude wanting to beat the rush out of the parking garage while the chick was refusing to leave until the hit they've heard a million times was heard for the millionth and first time. And really why would you leave before that to get home a half-hour earlier where you'd probably fight about something else?
Once the hit was dispensed with, the flock flew like a bat out of hell from the Marquee, leaving a respectable number of fans behind to enjoy the four-encore set which consisted of "Cherry Wine," "Run," a fetching cover of Ariana Grande's "Problem," and "Work Song," the next song his label praying will break the one-hit wonder status. Church or no church.
Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.
Like Up on the Sun on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for the latest local music news and conversation.