Hozier at the Pepper Canister Church – Review
Hozier – Pepper Canister Church – December 7th
Co. Wicklow’s Hozier – or Andrew Hozier-Byrne – appears to have flown under my radar over the past couple of years that he’s been performing around the country. However, he certainly announced himself to me, and to the nation, with the release of his debut EP in September, the title track of which, ‘Take Me to Church’, has since received both significant acclaim and exposure on Irish airwaves. He performed what is probably his biggest couple of gigs yet in Dublin this weekend.
The venue was a new one for me, Mount St’s Stephen’s Cathedral, also bizarrely known as The Pepper Canister. Despite the musty air and uncomfortable seating, it seems to me an excellent venture to seek alternative use for one of the wealth of underutilised churches at Ireland’s disposal. The impressive aesthetic aside, as a gig venue it just works. Perhaps it’s the years of Christian upbringing and the associations we draw from years of Mass and services, but we’re far more reverent towards the artists, we no longer chat through every song and we’re far less concerned with pushing through the crowd for a pint or a piss. Compared to the alternative venues for a seated gig this size – Vicar Street, the Olympia, The Button Factory – and it’s a marvellous choice.
What we gain however, we pay for with a sound-system not exactly tailored for this type of gig in this type of location, a poor view from the behind the columns in the wings, and port-a-loos. The lighting is flawless, however – it’s dark, with no light from the bar to ruin the atmospherics and the band are backed by a sea of red on the altar behind them, with a perfectly-placed spotlight illuminating the man himself as Celtic symbols whirl around the room.
See also: Interview with Andrew Hozier
He opens with a couple of minimalist blues pieces backed with big hanging piano chords, touches of cello and haunting delicate backing vocals. Right away I’m hooked. The venue, the atmospherics and the gorgeous music coalescing into something truly beautiful, and I’m wondering how I managed to miss this guy, who has appeared to come out of the woodwork a fully-formed and accomplished musician and song-writer. The opening is followed by two very upbeat and soulful, almost gospel-sounding numbers, and a restrained piano and cello-led reimagining of Zeppelin classic ‘Whole Lotta Love’ which they’ve shaved some of the sharp edges off.
The band then dutifully shuffle off stage, and we’re left with a succession of mostly solo songs. Maybe it’s some learned reflex of inevitably slipping into daydreams in churches, but it’s this point that he starts to lose me. The next four or five songs range from unremarkable acoustic finger-picked singer-songwriter ballads to the pulsing, clean Strat tones of ‘To Be Alone’, but never really pay out on such a promising opening. These songs are far from bad, but they remain a little too middle-of-the-road for me at times, even considering the variation in styles from song to song.
The highlight of this segment is the part-blues, part-folk interpretation of an Oscar Wilde poem, but needless to say when the band returns for the final few songs of his set, I’m relieved. They muscle through a few more of their enjoyable gospel and blues numbers before radio hit ‘Take Me to Church’ evokes the biggest cheer of the night, of which Hozier and his band deliver a superb rendition before leaving us.
Hozier is a young artist, already with some very strong material in his set, an excellent backing band and a well received debut EP at home and abroad. He’s not the finished article I thought he was from the night’s first chords, but he’s not far off it, and certainly a man we’ll be hearing a lot more of in future.
Review by Conor Cosgrave
Photo by Paulo Nuno Goncalves