The fifth evening of Manchester’s Sounds of the City festival brings Irish legend Hozier to the gorgeous industrial venue, Castlefield Bowl. Unfortunately, after a week of uncharacteristically sunny Manchester weather, the rain decided to join too. Out came the ponchos and umbrellas from the prepared, and hoodless jackets and even carrier bags for the rest of us.
“That might be the coolest thing that’s ever happened to us,” says the lead Tesky brother, of the aptly named support The Tesky Brothers, following a shower during their track, ‘Rain’. But as blue light glows from the tiered stage, behind multiple unattended keyboards and stringed instruments. Also, probably the largest guitar pedalboard I have ever seen. Wet clothes are promptly forgotten, and the 8,000 capacity amphitheatre erupts into possibly the loudest cheer of the festival so far. The band in black, and Hozier himself in a denim jacket, walk on stage.
‘Eat Your Young’ is the first track, and the blues-pop-folk grooves are the perfect way to warm up the audience. Followed by the huge, soaring choruses of ‘Jackie And Wilson’, I am once again in awe of the quality of sound that the outdoor venue is capable of putting out. However, the moment I truly come to grasp the level of musical finesse and showmanship I am watching is during ‘To Be Alone’. The overdriven guitars growl and Hozier’s band explode into one of the artist’s rockier tracks.
The kick drum feels like a shotgun. Heavy bass synth rumbles and distorts, while the violin player drops switches to an electric guitar. The bassist stalks around the stage in a near complete departure from the tone of the previous songs.
The iconic slap-back delay heard across all of Hozier’s records is imitated perfectly. The brick walls of the surrounding railway bridges and hotels echo his lines with natural reverb. White lights flare and the chorus hits, and I can’t help but voice my resolution: “damn.”
Hozier has this amazing way of unleashing a goose bump-inducing anthem, or a grooving blues-pop number, before thanking the audience in the most understated, humble voice possible.
“Thank you very much.” And he laughs, as if not expecting the raucous applause and screams of endearment in return. Hozier thanks the audience for being so accommodating and talks about how he’s had a great time enjoying ‘our’ city throughout the day. “And thanks for sticking it to the rain”. He offers politely, before the lights fade red and he swiftly transitions into yet another heart-wrenching rock song.
One of my other favourite moments comes when Hozier introduces a track from his latest album. Most of what we had heard so far were his classics. The song is ‘Francesca’, and Hozier explains how it is inspired by Dante’s famous poem ‘Inferno’. He states that, while Dante wrote about the never ending torment of being stuck with someone in hell, Hozier can’t understand it. “That’s no real punishment at all if you’re to spend eternity with someone you love.” My heart is in my throat.
Hozier then feints the end of the show with the iconic ‘Take Me To Church’. He returns for two more tracks – ‘Unknown / Nth’ and ‘Work Song’.