It was a VH1 You Oughta Know kinda night at the historic Beacon Theatre in NYC this past Friday. Hozier and George Ezra, two recent additions to our YOK family, graced the stage at the Upper West Side venue—and they did not disappoint.
Kicking things off was British singer-songwriter George Ezra. The 21-year-old writes clever, sophisticated songs that seem way beyond his years. He has a deep, baritone voice that is at times reminiscent of a more soulful Dave Matthews and it really complements his sharp brand of folk pop. The charismatic singer played a short but sweet set, injecting funny anecdotes and backgrounds to the songs in between. Highlights included the beachy reggae-folk of “Listen to the Man,” along with his new single “Budapest” (which has gotten a lot of VH1 love as of late) and the gritty “Did You Hear the Rain?,” which began with Ezra repeating the line “Why do you treat me so?” in a gospel-tinged voice before launching into the full song with his band and closing out the set. Most of the songs were drawn from his debut LP, Wanted on Voyage. Overall, it was a very impressive performance, and he’s definitely one to watch.
Next up was the headliner. Truth be told, I’m already a pretty big fan of the Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne, better known as Hozier. The smooth blend of folk, blues, gospel and rock on his self-titled debut album left me at times questioning how someone in their early 20s could conjure up such poetic and poignant music and lyrics. But bias aside, I was prepared for anything at this show, having never seen the man perform live (with the exception of a few YouTube vids).
The humble singer-songwriter strolled on stage with his band and quickly got things started with the soulful, catchy “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene,” which got the crowd immediately to their feet and singing along. The next three songs kept the upbeat vibe going, from the stunning single “From Eden,” to “Jackie and Wilson” to his new single “Someone New,” with Hozier’s powerful voice resonating throughout the theater. From there, things got darker with “It Will Come Back” and set standout “In a Week,” a duet with cellist/singer-songwriter Alana Henderson. Before playing the song, Hozier joked about an area of Ireland nearby his hometown called Wicklow Hills. “Anytime you hear ’Wicklow Hills,’ it’s usually before or after the words ’a body has been found.’ And on that note, this is a love song.”
Though this portion of the set was great in its own right, I found myself wishing that Hozier would have included another upbeat song to balance things out. The lighter material from earlier in the set would have offered a respite from some of the darker stuff that Hozier has an affinity for, giving the latter half of the set some levity. But hey, it’s a minor complaint. The guy completely killed it.
Hozier wrapped up his set by informing the crowd that his very first show in America was last year in New York City, on the lower east side, where he played to around 200 people. He then launched into the mega, Grammy-nominated hit single “Take Me To Church,” a song that helped skyrocket his burgeoning career to unfathomable heights. It was a fitting end to the set, and Hozier and his band completely slayed the song.
Hozier and Co. then walked off stage before returning to a chorus of deafening applause and roars from the crowd. He played the crowd favorite “Cherry Wine” before inviting the audience closer to the stage “if the ushers will allow it.” He then played the bonus track “Run” before segwaying into a fun and unexpected cover of Ariana Grande’s “Problem” and closing out the encore with the gospel-rock track “Work Song.” A perfect ending to a near-perfect set.
Both of these artists are huge talents with bright futures ahead of them. It was refreshing to see two young musicians who were all about the song. No gimmicks, no theatrics. Just simply great musicianship and vocals in support of great songwriting. And in 2015, that sounds like a pretty good thing to me.
[Photo: Getty Images]