Hozier / Dawes. Red Rocks. 08.02.15
As much as our 12-year-old daughter loves going to concerts with her parents, especially when we drag her to see bands that peaked before she was born, she seems to enjoy herself much more when she can bring a friend along. So when the Red Rocks schedule starts to emerge each year, I’m always on the lookout for family-friendly shows that we can all enjoy. Hozier ended up being one of those shows this season. Not only was the kid hooked on “Take Me to Church”, she also took the time to digest the entire album over the past few months…something she very rarely does. Her enthusiasm went beyond Andrew Hozier-Byrne’s debut album though. The real reason she was excited had more to do with her best friend. Having just arrived back from camp, this would be her friend’s first Red Rocks show. So it was that our 12-year-old little girl (who had decided she was too cool to sing or dance at shows about three years ago) was flaunting her finely tuned concert-going skills while Hozier and his band performed for a sold-out crowd on a cool, but dry night on the Rocks.
Dawes are a band that I’ve been meaning to see since we were turned away from a small SXSW show in 2010. The boys from Malibu have always reminded me of Jackson Browne with a little Wilco thrown in, but I’ve found myself filing them away in the ‘sounds good, but never really listen to’ cabinet to keep Delta Spirit and Cold War Kids company. They have that Laurel Canyon sound, and each solid album is followed by another solid album, but none of them stand out enough to hold my attention in this age of limitless listening options. That being said, they are no strangers to opening slots at Red Rocks, so they came out and did their job like true professionals last night. Not quite enough to appeal to the kids in our care, but enough to get me moving and singing along. They made the most of their time by touching on material from across their entire career, but surprisingly enough it was the selections from All Your Favorite Bands that hit the hardest. As they closed their set with the title track from that album, I realized how much I could relate to their simple, but clever lyrics. As the chorus rang out between the rocks, I couldn’t help but glance over at the girls and wonder if they would ever understand…
“I hope that life without a chaperone is what you thought it’d be
I hope your brother’s El Camino runs forever
I hope the world sees the same person that you’ve always been to me
And may all your favorite bands stay together.”
There were about thirty minutes to kill in between sets and I was starting to wonder if Hozier would be able to live up to the sight he was about to be presented with. 9,450 souls, framed between two monoliths in one of the most picturesque views a stage has ever seen, all with expectations that outweighed the strength of a single song. Hozier was a constant fixture on Top 40 radio stations (and a regular face on awards shows) when I bought the tickets, but I hadn’t heard much from him since then. There was a guy named Goyte who was in a similar position a few years ago…and where is he now? Granted, there were plenty of people in the crowd (like our daughter) who knew all the songs, but I’d be willing to bet that many of those in attendance were there just for the church song. So when the Irishman took the stage, with a cellist, keyboardist, drummer, guitarist and a pair of backup singers, I was nervous for him. As it turned out, he knew exactly what he was doing.
The stage was simple. No curtain or big screen. There were a few fancy swirling lights that augmented some of the more energetic selections, but the majority of the set focused on the music. Things opened up with “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene”. The natural granite backdrop was bathed in blue light as Hozier sang of ‘sweetened breath’ and tongues ‘so mean’ with the assistance of heavy percussion and a tough bass line that vibrated through the amphitheater. I was immediately impressed. Having found her voice and dance moves again, our daughter and her friend seemed to be feeling it as well. They could be found swaying and clapping along with everyone else during “From Eden”…and there on after. But it wasn’t until Alana Henderson got intimate with her cello that the sound really opened up. She became more than just a fixture from that point on, and as they made their way through the majority of the album, Hozier was the one to listen to, but she was the one to watch.
“I can’t begin to tell you what a big deal it is to be here, but I’ll try. It’s a big deal!” Just like Dawes before him, Hozier seemed truly grateful to be on that iconic stage. Instead of being buried under the weight of the majesty, he rose to the occasion. The whole set was extremely understated, which was perfect because it allowed the band to blend into their surroundings. Hozier allowed the venue to play a part in the performance, thus making it one of the most intimate shows I have ever seen there. Henderson played the part of Karen Cowely for an acoustic version of “In a Week”, before Hozier was left alone to cover Skip James’ “Illinois Blues”. Stripping the band away allowed Hozier to realize his full potential as a blues singer, but Henderson’s sweet serenade gave him a run for his money.
“Take Me to Church” closed out the main set. It sounded great, but it almost too perfect. I was expecting something more than what I’d heard on the album, so I was disappointed when they didn’t veer too far from the original. Thinking back on it today, I have to admit that it was probably a good thing that particular song wasn’t the highlight of the night. “Take Me to Church” is catchy as hell, and it is his “Somebody That I Used to Know”, but unlike that other guy, Hozier has a lot more to offer. He has better songs…and he performed them all last night. “Jackie and Wilson” was my personal favorite. Another highlight came from an unexpected place. When he took on Ariana Grande’s “Problem” (throwing a little bit of Warren G’s “Regulators” in for good measure), he made it his own, and it was awesome! It was unfortunate that he almost apologized for “just having fun“, because it was extremely fun and no apology was needed. It was the only point in the night where he seemed unsure of himself. Other than that, Hozier proved himself something much more than just a one hit wonder. In fact, if he ever stopped trying to write hits and really focused on exploring the blues within, I believe he could be something so much more than just a family-friendly artist who charts well on the radio. But in the meantime, if you’re looking to bring a 12-year-old to a concert that you can enjoy as well, Hozier is your ticket.
When My Time Comes
Time Spent In Los Angeles
Somewhere Along The Way
If I Wanted Someone
All Your Favorite Bands
Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene
Jackie and Wilson
To Be Alone
It Will Come Back
In a Week (with Alana Henderson)
Illinois Blues (Skip James)
Like Real People Do
Take Me to Church
Problem (Ariana Grande) / Regulators (Warren G)