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Written and Captured By | Sam Hwang

As far as artists go, Irish singer-songwriter Hozier certainly values quality over quantity. His album cycles are slow—five agonizing years separated the releases of his celebrated debut album Hozier and his most recent album, 2019’s Wasteland, Baby. But when he’s ready to give fans the new music they so desperately crave, he pulls out all the stops; Hozier may be coming to Boston this fall to play two sold-out shows at the Leader Bank Pavilion as part of a tour for his forthcoming album Unreal Unearth (out August 18), but that didn’t stop him from giving the city a taste of what’s to come with his surprise “‘Eat Your Young’ Pop Up Show,” which sold out the Paradise Rock Club on May 23.

I arrived at the venue to see an impressive line wrapping around the block. And yet, despite the wait, everyone seemed to be in high spirits—fans soaked up the fleeting golden hour sunlight while listening to a busker play guitar on the corner. A handful of people walked up and down the line looking for spare tickets (the show had apparently sold out before they could get their hands on any), but if their slim prospects bothered them, they didn’t show it. Their love of Hozier had brought them out anyways, and in that sense they were exactly like the excited people in line—maybe just a tad more devoted and a tad less lucky.

Maybe they’ll have a chance to see him at the Pavilion in September, or in one of the 38 other cities he’ll be visiting during the Unreal Unearth tour. But then again, demand is extremely high—he managed to sell out Madison Square Garden, which seats almost 20,000 people. I kept that in mind as I entered Paradise Rock Club, one of just under 1,000 fortunate fans who had the privilege of sharing such an intimate space with him. The excitement was palpable as the crowd waited, but alas, an opener separated us from the man of the hour. 

Opening for Hozier is no small task. Not only is he beloved for his musical talent (Spotify currently ranks him as the 156th most-listened-to artist in the world)—fans are also enamored of the man himself, revering him like one of the mythological figures he so often sings about. I was worried that Alisa Amador, who I had never heard of before, would be overwhelmed by the crowd’s restless hunger. And yet, she managed to tame them with a word—her admission that she’s a fellow Bostonian instantly caught the crowd’s attention, which was all she needed to hold it throughout the rest of her set.

See more photos of Alisa Amador HERE

Armed only with a guitar and her voice, Amador delivered a formidable performance that showcased her versatility as an artist—the audience grooved along to “Slow Down,” a bossa nova-inspired morning affirmation, then got into their feels as she covered Radiohead’s “High and Dry.” The most memorable song of her set was “Alone,” which she noted was formatted like a feminist thesis defense. Some members of the audience chuckled at the comparison but Amador, who had been a gender studies major at Bates College, quickly doubled down, pointing out which parts of the song would correspond to those in a defense between breaths as she sang, an excellent demonstration of her crowd work and sense of humor. She rounded out her set with “Milonga Accidental” (for which she won NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest in 2022), which she performed in Spanish. As Amador left the stage, she announced that she would also be performing at Boston Calling on Friday night (May 26), a great opportunity for those whose attention she piqued to hear more of her music.

Alisa Amador did a fantastic job of drawing the audience into her world. And yet, the conclusion of her set broke the spell of contentment that had been cast upon the crowd—without stimulation, the electric anticipation of seeing Hozier returned, making the forty minutes between sets felt like an eternity. Sisyphean, I dragged my eyes from my phone to the stage and back again repeatedly, eagerly awaiting his arrival until at last he appeared, every bit as ethereal as I had imagined. 

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Hozier kicked off his set with one of his newer tracks, “Eat Your Young,” for which the pop-up show was named. Right off the bat, people around me audibly gasped as he hit high notes found nowhere else in his discography (not even on the studio recording of the song), a reminder that four years had passed since his last album, and that he’d apparently put those years to good use, his voice aging like a fine wine. From there, he pulled evenly from his first two albums, bringing fans on an emotional rollercoaster ranging from the sweet (“Someone New,” “Would That I”) to the sexy (“To Be Alone,” “Dinner & Diatribes”), the hedonistic (“Jackie And Wilson,” “Nobody”) to the heart-wrenching (“Shrike,” “Cherry Wine”). 

Hozier also performed “Francesca,” which had come out just a few days before the show. In honor of the song’s debut, he took a few minutes to describe in detail the particular cantos of Dante’s Inferno that had inspired him to write the hard-hitting folk rock ballad, turning the cautionary tale of the lovers cursed to spend eternity in an endless hurricane into an anthem championing a love so unyielding, “I’d tell them ‘Put me back in it!'” 

See more photos of Hozier HERE

The climax of the evening came as Hozier performed his hit track “Take Me To Church,” which has racked up over two billion streams on Spotify. It was nothing short of a religious experience as his soulful voice thundered through the venue, joined by a choir of hundreds of adoring fans. At one point, he proudly displayed a lesbian pride flag that was handed to him by an audience member. As he hung it from his mic stand, I was reminded of how I’ve seen him referred to as a sort of “patron saint of lesbians” online, cherished by a large queer fanbase for the way he sings about love with such tenderness and respect, and for his vocal defense of LGBTQIA+ rights over the years. I was reminded, as well, of Alisa Amador’s performance earlier in the evening as she had talked about her gender studies major. “What a beautiful Boston audience!” she exclaimed, and was met with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. “What a beautiful Boston feminist audience!” More cheers. “What a beautiful Boston queer audience!” The crowd went wild. 

“We’ve a lot of starving faithful,” Hozier sings in “Take Me To Church.” The same could be said of the Paradise Rock Club that night, as his fiercely devoted fans filled the venue to the brim, eager to commune with him. As his encore ended, the last note of “Work Song” hanging heavy in the air, a sense of contentment washed over the crowd—satiation, fullness, gratitude. The gratitude went both ways; as Hozier and his band took their bows, he stopped to thank each and every member of his team by name, from the musicians and background vocalists who had supported him throughout the evening down to his production assistant. His final acknowledgement was to the audience, presented with his characteristic charm. “I have been a figment of your collective imagination,” he began, alluding to inside jokes within his fandom that he’s actually a centuries-old woodland spirit in human form. “Once you leave this venue I cease to exist. Thank you very much.” Amen, Hozier.

Photos By | Sam Hwang