Concert Review: Hozier and James Bay @ The Phoenix – Toronto

Despite having only recently released music within the past year or two, Hozier and James Bay have each amassed a solid fan base. Their rapid rises in popularity speak to their unique ability to stand out in the crowd of run-of-the-mill acoustic singer-songwriters. In fact, Hozier’s eponymous debut dropped only several weeks ago, and James Bay hasn’t even released a full-length album yet himself. Even so, they played to a sold-out show on Tuesday night at the spacious Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto.

James Bay sported his signature hat and a plain black t-shirt. For his set, he dove into “Let It Go,” When We Were On Fire,” and “If You Ever Wanna Be In Love.” Those around me who were unfamiliar with his music were initially confused no thanks to the “Hozier” in large white lettering in the backdrop; however, soon enough they too became fans. To close, he left the audience with his brand new “Hold Back The River”.

For much of his set, Hozier was accompanied by backup vocals and cello. He opened with a couple of his darker songs like “Like Real People Do” and “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene”. There were some minor feedback issues, but those soon resolved once he began “Jackie and Wilson”. Soon afterwards then introduced “Someone New”. Hozier explained that the song describes “love at its most empty, love at its most vacuous”.

Hozier’s father, a blues musician, undoubtedly introduced him to a wide range of blues and soul music that serve as strong influences his songwriting. Hozier’s love of blues is clear and he delivered a solid cover of Skip James’ “Illinois Blues” mid-set.

Finally, he ended with his unholy anthem “Take Me To Church.” But Hozier had a couple more songs in his back pocket for his encore. He offered up his version of Amerie’s “1 Thing” and “From Eden” with a surprise Spanish guitar-esque interlude.

In many ways, the Phoenix was an imperfect venue, by very nature of its large capacity. During both sets, the crowd chattered throughout, making it difficult to listeners to fully immerse themselves in the music. Hozier and James Bay are strong live performers, and their music is ideal for more intimate venues. Of course, their fan base can only be expected to grow, but hopefully they will continue to play at smaller venues as well.

For our interview with Hozier, click here.

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Review by Chris Tanouye | | Website

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