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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Hozier ‘unearths’ an ‘unreal’ show at Ascend Amphitheater

After a surprise appearance during Noah Kahan’s Oct. 4 performance at the same venue, the Irish singer delivered a cathartic performance and brought out Love Rising’s Allison Russell for an encore treat.
Barrie Barto
Hozier sings and plays the guitar, as photographed on Oct. 5, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)

If you are anything like me, you have been listening to Hozier for almost a decade now. But the Irish singer’s live performances are truly unbeatable — the perfect combination of cathartic and energizing that feels relevant at any point in your life. In short, you will likely come away from one of Hozier’s performances feeling nothing short of spellbound.  

Madison Cunningham opened the Oct. 5 show at Ascend Amphitheater with her patent folksy rock. Beginning with hits like “Hospital,” Cunningham paired her sharp voice with jazzy guitar tracks. Flooded with orange, purple and green lighting, the stage perfectly complemented Cunningham’s haunting lyrics and set the scene for the first signs of fall in Nashville. She went on to deliver a spellbinding performance of my personal favorite track, “Pin It Down,” before transitioning to “Broken Harvest.” Cunningham paired her energetic tracks with slower, emotional ballads as well, including “Life According To Raechel,” a song inspired by her grandmother who passed away. 

As she traded her bright blue electric guitar for a softer acoustic, Cunningham shared with the audience that, in a journal entry five years ago, she had dreamed of opening for Hozier. Her early premonitions were not the only eerie thing about Cunningham’s set — her characteristic “spooky rock” music delivered the perfect set-up for Hozier’s “Unreal Unearth” tour. I will surely be adding more of Cunningham’s tracks to my Spotify playlists with similar indie-rock voices like Sarah Kinsley, Mitski and Lucy Dacus. 

Madison Cunningham sings to the crowd, as photographed on Oct. 5, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto) (Barrie Barto)

“Unreal Unearth,” released in August 2023, is Hozier’s full-length third studio album. Straying from some of the more intimate components of his previous albums, this newest release retains the religious imagery and undertones for which the star originally gained fame with “Take Me To Church.” Inspired by Dante’s “Inferno,” the album is conceptualized around the concept of the nine circles of hell. A testament to Hozier’s pride in his Irish heritage, the album is also his first to include Irish-language lyrics and song titles. 

Hozier is no stranger to Music City — his own performance at Ascend was preceded by a surprise appearance at Noah Kahan’s second night in Nashville at the same venue. Hozier even explained to the audience that he called Nashville home for a few months earlier this year as he and his band rehearsed for the “Unreal Unearth” tour here. Exploring dive bars and venues across the city for two months, he shared that he had a new appreciation for Nashville. In March, he was also featured at the “Love Rising” benefit show, an event organized to raise funds for LBGTQ+ organizations in Tennessee after the passage of legislation banning gender-affirming care for minors. After hearing him perform just one track at “Love Rising,” I was hooked. 

The show opened with the first two tracks from “Unreal Unearth” — “De Selby (Part 1)” and “De Selby (Part 2).” Beginning in English, the first track transitions into Irish-language lyrics, paired with Hozier’s guitar skills and haunting violin and cello accompaniment. His on-stage presence is spell-casting, making it impossible to turn away. As these songs drew to a close, Hozier kicked off the night by applauding the audience’s “collective intention” for “keeping the rain away.” 

In minutes, most of the audience in the outdoor river-side venue was on their feet. The occasional drizzles, coincidentally during Hozier’s most emotional ballads, set the perfect scene for a mystical experience. 

Hozier artfully layers his older hits between newer tracks from the most recent album. He went on to perform “Jackie and Wilson,” an ode to a relationship in which he imagines raising children “on rhythm and blues.” This folksy track provided the perfect intermission from the heavier indie-rock parts of the show. The intermittent showers returned for Hozier’s performance of “From Eden,” as he invited the audience to sing along. 

As he began strumming to one of my personal favorites, “Francesca,” the artist explained that he was inspired by a piece in which Dante came across two people murdered for falling in love. As the song goes on, sculptures of roots descended down onto the stage, telling the visual story of “Unreal Unearth.” To me, this track perfectly illustrates the level of art Hozier reaches in this album — moving beyond just personal stories, he lends his musical talent to illustrating other mythical stories. 

Time and time again, Hozier made it known that he was far from being a one-man show. Inviting the audience to sing along to “To Be Alone,”  Hozier commented on how Nashville was “known for musical talent.” For me, this was one of the most fun and energizing moments of the entire show. Hozier went on to introduce his full band — more than half a dozen musicians, many of them women and Nashville natives themselves. The band’s energy and personalities lent themselves well to tracks like “Dinner & Diatribes” and “Movement” with their jazzier and funkier vibes. 

Towards the end of the show, Hozier continued to pepper in more of his older hits like the iconic “Cherry Wine,” a song that has held a place at the top of my Spotify listening history for years. His soft voice, combined with the almost flowery and playful acoustic guitar track, will carry you into another world. 

He then introduced “To Someone From A Warm Climate (Uiscefhuaraithe),” a song he explains is inspired by an Irish-Gaelic word that describes the sensation of cooling water on skin. Transitioning to “Like Real People Do,” the audience was reminded of the classic devotional bend to Hozier’s music. Newer hits like “Eat Your Young” show a new side to the usually emotional, contemplative artist with more fun and playful energy. 

Then came the moment the audience had been waiting for all night — “Take Me To Church.” After first hearing him perform the song at the “Love Rising” benefit concert, I was convinced that the live performance of this song alone made going to a Hozier show worth your time. As another bout of rain descended in perfect timing, the Irish singer began belting his hit song to create nothing short of a religious experience. 

Hozier belts a note, as photographed on Oct. 5, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto) (Barrie Barto)

Holding up an LGBTQ+ rainbow flag that had been tossed on stage by a fan, Hozier began his pretend exit, only to return minutes later with special guest Allison Russell — one of the co-organizers of the benefit concert in which he previously participated. They did not begin their rendition of “Nina Cried Power” with a brief history lesson from Hozier about how Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement was inspired by those in the southern U.S. in the 1960s. 

“No revolution is complete without its poetical expression,” Hozier said. 

Shouting out figures like Justin Jones and encouraging the audience to register to vote, Russell complemented Hozier’s revolutionary messaging perfectly. Ending on “Work Song,” Hozier made sure not to leave the stage for a final time without recognizing a couple that had gotten engaged during the show. In short, Hozier delivered an “unreal,” cathartic performance that I will never forget. 

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About the Contributors
Aaditi Lele
Aaditi Lele, Former Editorial Director
Aaditi Lele ('24) is majoring in political science and climate science with a minor in South Asian Language and Culture in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as News Editor. Outside of The Hustler, you can find her crocheting, practicing calligraphy or counting down the days until she can see her dog. She can be reached at [email protected].    
Barrie Barto
Barrie Barto, Editor-in-Chief
Barrie Barto ('25) is majoring in medicine, health & society with neuroscience and communication of science & technology minors in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Photography Director. When she's not strolling around campus with her camera, you can find Barrie cheering on the St. Louis Blues or tracking down the best gluten-free food in Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].
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