Hozier’s Unreal Unearth Tour Blows Chicago Away

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Hozier onstage at Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island in Chicago.

Andrew Hozier-Byrne, known more commonly by his stage name, Hozier, took to the stage in Chicago this past Tuesday, leaving fans speechless with his raw, romantic, nearly two hour long performance.

He’s playing at a sold-out Huntington Bank Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater sandwiched right down the way from the Adler Planetarium. The amphitheater boasts beautiful views of the Chicago skyline, the stars, and the moon, all of which carry their own sort of magic during this set.

With the tour being in support of his new album, Unreal Unearth, released August 18, Hozier’s set, just like the album itself, mimics traveling through the circles of hell, as they’re established in Dante’s Inferno, a classic piece of literature that has taken on a life of its own time and time again through pop culture.

As his performance begins, he takes the stage alongside his band, washed cool blue under the lights, with dappled with speckles of white from lights shining thin rays across the stage, emulating stars in a deep and rich night sky, or the reflection of moonlight under water. Hozier’s set begins with his most delicate vocals as he croons the lyrics to “De Selby (Part 1),” captivating fans as he lets the lyrics fall out of his mouth like honey in english, then irish. Accompanied by his glorious ensemble of strings (a cellist, a violinist, two folks on keys, a bassist, and Hozier himself on guitar), percussion, synth, and two powerhouse backup vocalists, it is crystal clear from the start of Hozier’s set that this night will be a special one to experience for this sold out crowd of over 30,000 Chicagoans gathered up against the water of Lake Michigan. 

Following “Eat Your Young,” he goes back to a few older fan favorites, both off of his self-titled album. First “Jackie and Wilson” kicks off, where it is so clearly apparent the amount of fun he is having onstage, belting out every note, grooving behind a guitar, his hair swaying along with him. This track is one that has such a dynamic, rich vocal melody, and it is astonishing to think that it could sound even better live than it does recorded… but it does. Following this wonderful love song that gives a great nod to R&B, fans are spoiled with “From Eden,” another classic.

After slithering here from Eden, Hozier introduces his audience to a striking track called “Francesca,” off of Unreal Unearth. “This song is inspired by two lovers written about by Dante in the Divine Comedy, two real, historical figures, who were murdered for loving each other. And Dante put them in hell, and this kind of turns that on its head and says that being arm-in-arm with someone for eternity that you’d literally die for, that’s no punishment.” As Francesca begins, three-dimensional roots begin to grow down from the top of the stage, letting viewers see that the show has now descended into hell, and will continue to dive further throughout the night.

Another peak of the night is the magic of being able to witness the live debut of “To Someone From a Warm Climate (Uiscefhuaraithe).” Hozier introduces this song by explaining that, even after studying the Irish language all through school, he had not, until recently, learned the word uiscefhuaraithe, which is a word describing the feeling of when an object or surface is made cold by water – “like when you pull a stone out of a river and you know that stone is cold, and you know that coolness comes from being touched by water,” he explains, before pouring his soul into this beautiful ballad that feels like drifting on still water. It envelopes the audience in a way that is almost tangible, as they sway like an ocean’s waves, taking in every note under the dimmed lights.

As the set continued to move through the circles of hell (as Inferno does), we experience changes in the “depth” of hell, with roots above us for the higher circles, and nothing but a cavernous wall for the lower circles. Until we get to witness the most majestic rising, just in time for “First Light.” Witnessing the projection across the stage morphing to show us traveling upward, until we can see the most glorious sunrise as Hozier himself belts out the lyric It’s like I’ve lived my whole life for the first light. The most majestic sunrise to be witnessed on a stage under the moonlight.

And of course, no Hozier performance would be complete without ending with a few fan favorites. “Take Me to Church,” on the eve of its tenth anniversary, is the most holy performance, a sacred rite to witness as a crowd of thirty thousand sings every line so crisply, voices entwining in one another in harmony with the beautiful melody being sung onstage. “Cherry Wine,” performed under deep red lights and the phases of the moon onstage, is another intimate moment that is so delicate it feels like it will shatter if any outside light or sound intrudes on the space.

Juxtapose these two with the revolutionary cries of “Nina Cried Power,” originally recorded in Chicago with Mavis Staples, and the crowd is night and day. During this one, backing vocalist Melissa McMillan is a powerhouse to hear, hitting every note and not pulling any punches. One cannot help but move to the music when it sways, and this song is made for moving and grooving far more than it is for standing still. Crediting the Civil Rights Movement, Nina Simone, Mavis Staples, and The Troubles as some of the many inspirations for this song, Hozier puts his whole heart and soul into the performance, and the crowd reciprocates that energy every second of it. And then to close out the night, a gorgeous performance of “Work Song,” a piece whose lyrics speak for themselves and move everyone who gets to hear them.

In just shy of two hours, Hozier paints a gorgeous vision of love, hell, suffering, and beauty, all entangled and enmeshed with one another. Unreal Unearth is one astounding album to hear, and an even more astounding performance to witness. The Unreal Unearth tour continues through the US until November 4th, and then moves onward to Europe until the end of December – all US dates are sold out*, and for good reason.

*excludes festival performances