Born in California, resident in Manchester singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop is something of a musical chameleon. Her sound incorporates aspects of folk, indie rock, sixties pop, and American gothic amongst other things.
Onstage Hoop comes across as an engaging, sweet woman who likes to tell stories both through her songs and through direct conversation with the audience. That she comes across as wide eyed in her enthusiasm, somewhat shy and self conscious at times is part of her charm.
Her voice has a tremendous range from low roar to angelic high notes, and she is able to sing in a number of different narrative voices, from that of a young child to a world weary older woman. Both of these skills compliment the complex musical rhythms and lyrics of her songs.
The style and look of new single ‘Born to’, all surging guitars and strong and fierce vocals, made me wonder if Hoop had crossed over into spiky post punk territory as so many artists have lately, but the gig and new album The house that Jack built have revealed a more complex picture. Despite a minor protestation from her that she and her band are a punk band rather than a folk band because they do everything themselves, her songwriting does have a folky feel to it at times.
The song ‘Peacemaker’, based on a story from one of the ancient Greek plays, in which the women go on sex strike to stop the men going to war (and perpetuating the sins of war), was particularly stark and powerful in a live setting. At the other end of the scale were jaunty tunes such as the incredibly catchy ‘Hospital (to win your love)’ which owes more to sixties pop and was inspired by Jesca’s younger brother, Biz, and his childhood broken arm.
And then there was ‘When I’m asleep’, a transcendental almost bhangra tinged song, which occurred around the middle of the set, and during which the self effacing Jesca briefly became a pagan goddess of the dance. The result was mesmerising.
The band were called back for encores and at the very end of the gig when all the stage lights had been switched off, the band had left the stage, and the gig was over Jesca stood with the microphone on its stand at her back and softly but powerfully sang acapella a little song on the themes of winning over an initially restless audience. In some performers this could be taken for arrogance, but in her case the effect was moving, charming and it nicely encapsulated the gig for me.
Early on into her set my shoulder had seized up, my neck was aching and I’d had a high temperature, plus I was feeling irked by the couple in front of me who seemed to think that they were watching the Stone Roses in Heaton Park and were dancing accordingly. But Jesca and the band won me round, I was absorbed and spellbound. And I bought both the albums on the way out.