In just under a year’s time, Irish singer/songwriter Hozier leaped from underground obscurity to worldwide familiarity, catapulted by the strength of his smash “Take Me To Church” and a showstopping performance alongside Annie Lennox during the Grammy Awards. Even in Chicago contexts, he’s rapidly risen past the Metro and Riviera Theatre to sell out the mammoth Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, where he brought an arsenal of songs from 2014’s self-titled debut, a well-oiled band, pair of background singers, plus an entrancing light show to perk up even the last rows on the spacious lawn.
The haunting, bluesy atmosphere returned for “Arsonist’s Lullaby,” the keyboard pounder “Sedated” came across as anything but it’s title, while the obvious closer “Take Me To Church” evoked a full crowd sing-a-long that left the door open to a vast window of interpretations.
Those lucky enough to score a ticket to the blistering 90 minute set were treated to not just a sole smash, but an articulate, thought-provoking and generally deep troubadour who appears to be aiming more towards an indie rock-infused blues revival than topping today’s pop charts. In fact, the touring titan cited Chicago’s old time scene as being a primary muse in his soulful stylings, dirty guitar playing and sometimes dark lyrics that permeated everything from the hypnotic opener “Angel Of Small Death And The Codeine Scene” to the stomping, Black Keys-like “To Be Alone.”
Even so, there were several additional layers to Hozier’s presentation, including the cello-tipped alternative popper “Someone New” and an acoustic mid-point segment that culminated with “Like Real People Do” (featuring his backers’ gradually escalating arrival). The haunting, bluesy atmosphere returned for “Arsonist’s Lullaby,” the keyboard pounder “Sedated” came across as anything but it’s title, while the obvious closer “Take Me To Church” evoked a full crowd sing-a-long that left the door open to a vast window of interpretations.
Though throngs of fairweather fans bolted during the encore break, those who remained were rewarded with yet another round of Hozier’s compelling yin and yang, from the vocally beautiful “Cherry Wine” to a “just for fun” cover of Ariana Grande’s “Problem” mashed with Warren G’s “Regulate” and the poignant torch march “Work Song.” The latter probably bared the closest resemblance to “Church” and could likely follow in its radio footsteps, through regardless of where the cards fall commercially, this relative newcomer’s extensive artistic reach is shaping up to be his most valuable asset.