After spending much of the past year on tour, Hozier might have finally made it to church on Friday. Or at least the "Take Me to Church" hitmaker talked about that night's concert at First Avenue like it was a come-to-Jesus moment — the messiah in this case being a 5-foot-2 Minnesotan who wears a lot of purple.
"To a lot of musicians, this is holy ground," the suddenly proliferating Irish soul-pop star said on stage at Minneapolis' legendary nightclub, where Prince's "Purple Rain" was filmed. "If we had a religion, I'd be barefoot right now."
In his Twin Cities debut — sold out since about the time Top 40 radio DJs stopped pronouncing his name "hoser" — Hozier himself did not prove to be any big revelation, but his 90-minute performance did have some divine moments.
Not the least among the highlights was the perfunctory but admirably chosen cover of Morris Day and the Time's "Purple Rain" party anthem "Jungle Love," a 31-year-old song that the 24-year-old newcomer playfully pulled out of his denim jacket sleeve during the encore. Even better was a solo-acoustic version of Skip James' 1930s-era Delta blues classic "Illinois Blues" earlier in the show, which showed off his deft fingerpicking skills and powerful, lonesome moan of a voice.
Known as Andrew Hozier-Byrne to folks back home in County Wicklow, the lanky, peach-fuzz-faced singer clearly has tastes and ability that run deep. That much was evident right away Friday as he opened the set with a song tastefully seared in gospel fire, "Angel of Small Death & the Codeine Scene."
Somehow, Hozier's skinny frame continually managed to conjure up the thick, bellowing voice needed to convey the heavy soulfulness of his songs. He sang as forcefully on stage as he does on record.
He's pretty darn smooth with the softer stuff, too. "Cherry Wine," which kicked off the encore, proved he could go a long way just as a tender, blue-eyed soul balladeer. Near the halfway mark, he strikingly delivered the folk epic "In a Week" as an intimate duet with cellist Alana Henderson — making a song about decomposing bodies sound unusually wistful and romantic (credit the Irishman in him for that).
The disappointing aspects of Friday's concert could easily be chalked up to the fact that Hozier is still a newcomer with only one record to his one name.
An inordinate amount of filler tunes rounded out the set list in lieu of better original material. Things really dragged before the encore with the melodramatically dreary, heavy-handed "Arsonist's Lullaby" and monk-flavored "Foreigner's God."
His six-member band also sounded a bit green and timid in some of the more up-tempo, groove-laden, R&B-flavored songs such as "Someone New." However, they did nail the rocky shuffle in the prospective follow-up hit "Jackie and Wilson" three songs into the set.
As for the Grammy-nominated megahit, Hozier saved "Take Me to Church" for the pre-encore finale. He played it decidedly straight without any flourishes or alterations, which is probably how the 1,500 fans wanted it the first time out. Let's see how well the lucky Irishman can change things up from here.