By Avery PoznanskiNovember 9, 2023
From the sun-bleached stands of the Hollywood Bowl, the Hollywood Cross looms over the skyline, shiny as a warning.
It’s the last night of folk-rock-blues darling and perpetual actual-nice-guy Hozier’s “Unreal Unearth” tour, its name promising a night of mystic transcendence. Cue the hour-long bus to Hollywood & Highland (on which two girls ask, “Are you going to Hozier?” in the same tone one would ask “Are you queer?”—the answer to both being: Have you looked at me?). By the time the unholy concrete of the Bowl is under my platform boots, I have faded into the trudging masses of girls, gays, and theys.
Lovingly dubbed “King of the Lesbians” by the cultural maelstrom that is Gen Z’s internet, Andrew Hozier Byrne occupies a precarious artistic form: poetic but not cloying, mysterious but endearing, soulful and original but deferential to his influences. There’s something about his worshipful blazon of the female subject that serves, to many, as a reclamation of the spiritual. For a guy who more-than-sorta looks like the Western visualization of Jesus, it almost writes itself.
At the Hollywood Bowl on just another Saturday, there are, indeed, many lesbians. Among a few patient parents, begrudging flannelled-and-mustached boyfriends, VIP ticket holders, and their $47 bottles of wine, there are girls with hands held and cheeks kissed, their hair dyed green and outfits matching. There are black-lipsticked witches and sunglasses-at-night butches and lace-draped nymphs. People in the interminable merch line fall over each other trying to complement the other’s outfit first—these are my people.
Fifties rock ’n’ roll interludes play over the speakers until, clad in black mesh, opener Madison Cunningham materializes. Her spectral voice tilts at dizzying intervals and asks with ringing clarity, “What do I know / What do I hold that will not fade away / All things fade away.” Later in the show, Hozier describes her as one of the most uniquely talented musical minds of their generation. The more complex I realize her guitar arrangements are, and the conviction and tenderness with which she cradles it, the more I agree with him.
Finally, we spin away, swept into Hozier’s swampy cosmic incantations. He’s dressed more like my Shakespeare professor than a rock star, and pushes his hair out of his face endearingly about every seven seconds, possibly for dramatic effect. He seems almost apologetic, like his voice possesses his body for only a few minutes at a time, and must be cleaned up between songs with stunned gratitude. This Irish niceness slips for just a moment when he commands the “17,000 pairs of lungs” in the Bowl: “All I’m lookin’ for is organized sound, organized noise.” For a city of entertainers, we somehow manage to entirely butcher the two-note sung response expected of us. “For the holy sake of fuck, can we try that again?” Something cracks, and he’s real, and he’s got us.
Three years after “Take Me to Church” came out and exploded onto every suburban mom’s radio, I enrolled myself in Christian musical theater camp and spent worship time peeking at whatever girl I had a crush on that week. I always wondered what they saw there on the backs of their eyes; I searched behind my own, but all I felt was desire to touch the hand next to mine.
“Take Me to Church” is the last song before the encore. Released a year before Obergefell v. Hodges, the song’s music video enacts the harrowing destruction of a clandestine queer relationship. The video, interspersed on-screen with live footage of Hozier onstage (by now, a pride flag has wormed its way around his proud shoulders), is more disturbing than I remember, and by the end of the song the stage is lit up with projected flames. I suddenly feel overwhelmed and close my eyes. I was born sick, but I love it / Command me to be well / A, amen / Amen, amen.
The Hollywood Cross shines bright above the Bowl. I hold my hands open at my sides, and if only for a moment, I’m surrounded by the masses in worship. I whisper, “Amen,” and I mean it.
Photo by contributor.
LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.
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