Listen to Austin 360 Radio

After ACL Fest, an open letter to Hozier

Eric Webb
ewebb@statesman.com

Dear Hozier,

First of all: big fan of manbuns, yours in particular, keep up the nice work. Secondly, why don’t people give you enough credit?

I jumped at the chance to review your Sunday night Austin City Limits Music Festival set, and none of the other music writers even fought me for the assignment. Can you believe that? Probably not, because you drew about as many people as Lorde did at the same spot last year. Everyone had cartoon hearts in their eyes tonight.

I think you get lumped into the crowd of generic-sounding, too-sincere guitar bros that Ed Sheeran and Vance Joy and other male friends of Taylor Swift occupy. That is ludicrous, and even if one had only heard “Take Me To Church,” I don’t know how one could arrive at that conclusion.

From the opening of “Like Real People Do,” which could not sound more charmingly Irish unless you brought out Bono to reenact the steerage dancing scene from “Titanic,” you showed you had a unique artistic identity. From the lush string accompaniment, to the voice that sounds like how I would describe the concept of “timbre,” you were aiming for far higher marks than radio disposability. From your apology for missing last year’s fest due to illness, to your warning about your current cold (“If I make a sound similar to a goose being slaughtered, just ignore it”), you were exacerbating many crushes in the audience using only your own susceptibility to pathogens.

But I think it was your second joint, “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene,” with its claps and big kickdrum pulse, that left the most indelible impression. Did you know when you hit those big ones that it looks like you’re smiling? It’s a thing that happens. Everyone noticed. Don’t worry about it.

What else could someone possibly demand for you to prove that you’re not some cheeseball destined for some “Sounds of the 2010s” compilation mix? Join Radiohead or something? Your dad is a blues musician, and you grew up listening to Muddy Waters and Nina Simone, and that made your set sound like a trip to the Irish delta. The Southern-fried “To Be Alone” burned the park down, tortured and carnal roars of “Feels good, God it feels good” and all. I think that fest MVPs Alabama Shakes would have perked their ears at your retro-romantic “Jackie and Wilson.” By the time you got to “Sedated” late in the set (which is apparently a fan-favorite song, judging by the reaction), I realized how you hadn’t hit an energy lull the entire set, which is hard for anyone that’s not, like, a synth-disco act or Major Lazer.

Of course you ended with “Take Me To Church,” because we are all slaves to inevitability of death and hit songs. It was thunderous, and you looked like you were about to go full fire-breather on us. Special props for writing a song that would inevitably cause a bunch of dust-covered festies to intone “Amen, amen, amen” like it was Wednesday night choir practice.

Just want you to know, Hozier, that we’d be happy to see you back in Zilker Park any time. But you have to bring the hair. Otherwise, no deal.

Sincerely,

Someone who went to see the Weeknd right after your set and wished he hadn’t ruined the mood

P.S. I know you know that ACL Fest loves covers more than it loves erratic weather. Your jazzy, barebones rendition of “Blackbird” was a credit to the very concept of vocal harmony.

P.P.S. We probably would have been happy with just that, but then you covered Ariana Grande’s “Problem” and replaced the Iggy Azalea part with Warren G’s “Regulate.” Show-off.