Last month (Sept. 13), Hozier celebrated the ten-year anniversary of “Take Me to Church” — the roaring Grammy-nominated Diamond-certified carnal worship song that shot him to fame — and while that single remains a towering contribution to the 21st-century pop music lexicon, it was just one of countless electrifying moments at Hozier’s Madison Square Garden debut at his Unreal Unearth tour on Saturday night (Sept. 30).
A 25-city trek in support of his third studio album of the same name — which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and topped the Rock, Folk and Alternative Albums charts — the Unreal Unearth Tour finds Hozier 10 years removed from the life-changing explosion of “Church,” comfortably treating tens of thousands of dedicated, enraptured fans to fantastic live renditions of standout tracks from several EPs and albums.
Featuring an incredibly talented band that combined the musical legacies of Ireland, New York City and Nashville, TN, a set that periodically lit up with bare upside-down trees and a heartwarming air of gratitude, Saturday night’s show was a career highlight for the 33-year-old Irish rocker. Opening with a haunting take on Unreal Unearth introductory double-header “De Selby (Part 1)” and “De Selby (Part 2),” Hozier treated Madison Square Garden to a journey through some of his most moving ruminations on love, lust, the afterlife and religion. A remarkably consistent live vocalist, Hozier’s voice — in addition to his guitar skills — was the centerpiece of the show. He seamlessly shifted from cooing in a whispery falsetto to rocking the arena’s foundation with lofty belts and rollicking arrangements throughout the 19-song setlist — which included such songs as “Movement,” “Eat Your Young” and “Jackie and Wilson.”
With a simple stage setup that prioritized showcasing the camaraderie of his band and the physicality of each of their individual performances, the Unreal Unearth tour perfectly captured the reason so many people became so enamored with Hozier a decade ago. He performs with a reverence for the experience of crafting music and sharing that with the world. Whether it’s the camera lingering on the way he delicately finger-picks the guitar or a sultry body-to-body moment between two band members, the entire production reveled in the endless possibilities of music and its creation. That joy and respect were reflected in the crowd, a sold-out sea of diverse faces belting out call-and-response exchanges preceding “To Be Alone” and coordinating eardrum-splitting cheers in anticipation of a show-stealing encore.
Here are the five best moments at Hozier’s Unreal Unearth Tour in New York City on Saturday night.
Hozier Hosts a Linguistics Lesson for ‘To Someone from a Warm Climate’
Tucked away in the back half of Unreal Unearth is “To Someone from a Warm Climate (Uiscefhuaraithe)” — a heartbreaking ode to what Hozier describes as “the cooling sensation of water.” Preceding his performance of the track, Hozier explained at length his first encounter with the word when he was learning Gaelic growing up — an extension of his most recent record’s dedication to the preservation of the Irish tongue. Considering every other song got a comparatively unceremonious introduction, the moment provided something a bit deeper than cheeky banter. With his address on the meaning of “uiscefhuaraithe” and his personal history with the word, Hozier brilliantly set the stage for a moving performance that soared in its delicate balance of silence and echoes.
‘Cherry Wine’ Ages the Best
This ten-year-old folk song still stands as an immense songwriting achievement with its harrowing exploration of the darkest parts of love and power. For “Cherry Wine,” originally from his Take Me to Church EP, Hozier stood alone onstage — just him and his warm acoustic guitar filling up one of the most iconic performance venues in the world. With the focus solely on his voice and guitar, Hozier cultivated a sense of intimacy that both beautifully framed the song and helped deepen the feeling of community permeating the arena.
Mavis Staples Gets Her Flowers
Part of why Hozier’s music is so excellent is because of how deep and varied his musical knowledge is; his commitment to crediting and honoring his influences is also one of the most admirable things about his artistry. Before launching into 2018’s rousing ode to protest anthems “Nina Cried Power,” Hozier took a minute to honor his duet partner on that song — the legendary Mavis Staples — and hold space for both the immeasurable influence of Black artists and activists, and the direct connection between the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the Northern Ireland civil rights movement.
Madison Cunningham Joins for ‘Work Song’ Encore
After delivering a terrific opening set — which included a rendition of the earworm Revealer single “Hospital” — Grammy-winner Madison Cunningham reappeared onstage at the end of the night to assist Hozier in sending the crowd off with one of the most devastating love songs of the past 15 years, “Work Song.” The subtle warmth of her timbre paired well with Hozier’s booming baritone. Perhaps the best part of their duet was when they would pull back and let the arena belt out the song’s ever-enduring chorus: “When my time comes around/ Lay me gently in the cold, dark earth/ No grave can hold my body down/ I’ll crawl home to her.”