The colossal success of Andrew Hozier-Byrne’s song Take Me To Church may have taken its composer aback but a packed to the gunwales Leeds Academy suggests celebrity is something that the Irish singer-songwriter may have to get used to.
Such is the appetite for the 25-year-old’s slow-burning gospel blues it’s hard to find a decent vantage point on the balcony three-quarters of an hour before showtime.
The man of the moment arrives on stage casually attired in blue jeans and a check shirt hung over his tall frame, his hair in a ponytail, and launches straight into the uptempo rock ’n’ roll of Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene.
From Eden features a standout cello solo from Alana Henderson while the swinging Jackie and Wilson nods to Thin Lizzy at their most playful.
There are echoes of Van Morrison’s Caledonian soul in the “fun” grooves of current single Someone New before it’s back to the blues again in To Be Alone, with Hozier playing something resembling one of Seasick Steve’s cigar box guitars.
He’s joined by Henderson – a singer-songwriter from Co Tyrone – for one of the highlights of the set, In A Week, a blissful duet about the Wicklow Hills near where Hozier was raised, though beneath its loved up sentiment lies a Blue Velvet-like darker side. “They’ll find us in a week/When the weather gets hot/After the insects have made their claim/After the foxes have known our taste”.
Hozier doffs his cap to Skip James, “an artist who was very influential for me growing up”, with a solo cover of one of the Delta bluesman’s Illinois Blues before the band returns for Like Real People Do and Arsonist’s Lullabye, a portentous number that begins with the lines “When I was a child I would hear voices – some would sing and some would scream”.
By the time he reaches Take Me To Church, the singer is feeling the love in the room. Thanking his audience, he says: “This is our first proper show in Leeds. Hopefully we will be back before too long.”
The crowd reciprocate with a mass singalong and huge roar of approval at the end.
As Hozier encores with Cherry Wine, a jaunty cover of Amerie’s 1 Thing and his own Work Song it’s hard to shake the thought that the next time he’s in this city it’ll be in the voluminous space of the First Direct Arena.
Gig date: May 28