Hozier enchants at sold-out St. Petersburg debut

Opener Jade Bird shined during a brief set, too.

click to enlarge Hozier enchants at sold-out St. Petersburg debut
Photo by Marlo Miller

“What a beautiful room you have here,” Hozier told a sold-out Mahaffey Theater, where the crowd was unanimously beaming just three songs into an enchanting 17-song set.

St. Petersburg was lucky enough to catch the Grammy-nominated Irishman only 10 days into a massive world tour that will hit stops throughout North America as well as Australia, New Zealand and Europe. The tour, which runs through the fall, is in support of Hozier’s second studio album Wasteland, Baby!. While the record hasn’t quite met the acclaim of his self-titled debut project, the album still hit no.1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 after it dropped on March 1.

RELATED: Photos: Hozier and Jade Bird at Mahaffey Theater — 03.20.19

Just after 8 p.m., 21-year-old U.K. songwriter Jade Bird — dwarfed in her all-white dress by a giant, all-white acoustic guitar — got the night started. While her British accent was hard to make out when she wasn’t singing, the young star had the adoration of just about everyone in the room during her brief 30-minute set. When she wasn’t making the audience laugh in between songs with the cute stories behind her short catalog (her debut album is due out next month), the alt-country/folk artist dazzled all by herself onstage.

Hozier made his way to the stage just after 9 p.m., backed by a seven-piece band that included strings, two pianos and a shuffling lineup of instruments. For his first appearance in St. Petersburg, the 29-year-old opened with three songs from this new album (“Would That I”, “Dinner & Diatribes”, and “Nina Cried Power”) before giving in to the old catalog (“Jackie and Wilson”).

Impossibly, Andrew Hozier-Byrne’s voice is every bit as charming between songs as it is on record, and the sold-out crowd was happy to hear both his singing and speaking voice on Wednesday night. Early on, the crowd seemed confused whether it should stand or sit in a room that often hosts symphonies and speakers. Aside from a few girls swaying back and forth in sundresses, the majority remained seated until song six, when Hozier (a former member of Ireland’s Trinity Orchestra choir) asked the room to stand and sing along with his sweet ballad, “Someone New.”

You could hardly blame those who sat, though, as Wednesday night’s debut in St. Pete felt more like a spectacle than a midweek concert. While plainly dressed in a striped green T-shirt and black button-up, Hozier’s presence made you feel like you were watching something truly important on stage. The singer-songwriter serenaded 2,000-plus for just over an hour and a half, and charmed the crowd with his renowned voice, brief stories and boyish charm.

Song number 15 needed no introduction, and when Hozier cued the music for “Take Me To Church” the entire crowd rose to its feet and sang the words back to the man on stage. The song — which earned the singer a Grammy nomination in 2014 — demanded a standing ovation from his audience, and rightfully so. The crowd that was previously coy to stand remained on its feet for several minutes until the singer returned for an encore of “Cherry Wine” and “Work Song”.

After complimenting the room on its picturesque venue, Hozier reiterated our luck in living in “such a beautiful part of the world.” With impeccable weather and concert gems like we were treated to on Wednesday night, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

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LJ Hilberath

Franz “LJ” Hilberath is a Clearwater-native who contributes to Creative Loafing's Music section. He previously served as an intern and is now a freelance contributor for all things music.LJ can be found in the field reviewing concerts and music festivals around the country, and also works interviews for both local...
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