Live Review: Hozier with James Bay at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 4th November 2014

By on Monday, 10th November 2014 at 2:00 pm

Photos by Cheryl Demas, except where noted

Shows at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC are always worth traveling for, even, as in this case, when the travel involves multiple time zones and full days spent on airplanes. I always have to remind myself that as difficult as the travel might be for me, it’s often a Herculean effort for the musicians actually giving the show. Irish singer/songwriter Hozier has been on tour almost non-stop since March of this year, when he played SXSW in Austin, pausing only to record his self-titled debut studio album that was released in October. His show at the 9:30 Club last Tuesday night marked the penultimate stop on his North American tour, preceding two shows in New York and the start of a lengthy tour through the UK and Europe.

James Bay at 9:30 Club 4th November 2014

Hozier’s special guest on this leg of the American tour was Hitchin born singer/songwriter James Bay. Joined on stage by colleague Gerry Morgan on piano and percussion, Bay played an opening set of earnest, bluesy love songs that were a perfect warm up for Hozier’s more intense, r&b-influenced style. There were clearly some longtime James Bay fans in the audience, as evidenced by the squeals, sighs and singing along in the more unabashedly romantic moments. Recent single ‘Let It Go’ was particularly effective, as was slow burner ‘Move Together’.

In the fashion of a performer more accomplished than his youthful age, Bay closed his set with his strongest effort, upcoming single ‘Hold Back the River’. Stay tuned to TGTF for more coverage on James Bay leading into his recently announced scheduled appearance at SXSW 2015. Bay is set to embark on a tour of the UK and Ireland later this month. His next single ‘Hold Back the River’ is due for release on the 23rd of November via Republic Records.

Gerry Morgan and James Bay at 9:30 Club, 4th November 2014

When I first saw Hozier at SXSW 2014 as part of Communion’a showcase at St. David’s Church, his songs were still new to most of us, and although the response was unquestionably positive, audience members seemed stunned into silence by the sheer power of his musicianship and songwriting. A mere 8 months later, the full-to-capacity crowd in Washington, DC clearly knew exactly what to expect. There was much singing along, cheering and a few cheeky requests (some music-related, some not) shouted from the back of the room. Hozier himself took this in stride, looking a bit dazed but keeping his cool as he played through his set list with a minimal amount of banter between songs.

Hozier at 9:30 Club, 4th November 2014

Because Hozier currently has only one album of songs to draw from, his set list was somewhat predictable, though there were a few small surprises. He opened with a lesser known ballad, ‘Like Real People Do,’ then immediately followed it with the energetic groove of ‘Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene’. He politely provided us with the title of each song before he played it, giving brief explanations for his cover of Skip James’ ‘Illinois Blues’ and the earthy folk song ‘In a Week’, which he performed here in a lovely duet with cellist and vocalist Alana Henderson.

Hozier and Alana Henderson at 9:30 Club, 4th November 2014
photo by Carrie Clancy

Alana Henderson at 9:30 Club, 4th November 2014

Rather than saving hit track ‘Take Me to Church’ for the encore, Hozier chose to play it at the end of the set proper. After an appropriate interval for applause, he returned to the stage to play a rather unexpected cover of American r&b singer Amerie’s hit single ‘1 Thing’ before closing with his own current American radio single ‘From Eden’.

Naturally, when Hozier took the stage, the focus was squarely on him. But his unassuming stage demeanour left plenty of space for his band members to display their talents as well. Hozier’s entourage of accomplished touring musicians are worth noting, as they bring the full range of color to his songs, from the dark gospel of ‘Take Me to Church’ to the dance pop leanings of ‘Sedated’. Henderson was an indispensable part of that sound, along with bassist Alex Ryan, keyboardist Mia Fitz and backing vocalists Ruby Amanfu and Rachael Lampa.

Drummer Rory Doyle was familiar to my gig partner Cheryl and me, having toured in America previously with Bell X1. The fact that Doyle has worked on albums by both Hozier and Bell X1 is a testament to the versatility of his musicianship and an example of the calibre of the other musicians on the stage, including Hozier himself. The cooperative spirit of the performance was neatly emphasised at the end of the night when the full band took a curtain call to close the show.

Rory Doyle at 9:30 Club, 4th November 2014

Hozier curtain call, 9:30 Club, 4th November 2014

Hozier will play live dates in the UK and Europe through November and December before returning to America early next year. A full listing of shows can be found on Hozier’s official Web site.

After the cut: James Bay and Hozier’s set lists.

James Bay’s Set List:
When We Were on Fire
If You Ever Want to Be in Love
Let It Go
Move Together
Hold Back the River

Hozier’s Set List:
Like Real People Do
Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene
Jackie and Wilson
To Be Alone
Someone New
It Will Come Back
Illinois Blues (Skip James cover)
Cherry Wine
In a Week
Work Song
Take Me to Church
1 Thing (Amerie cover)
From Eden

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