American singer songwriter Jesca Hoop now has several albums and EPs behind her and is deservedly becoming better known, including getting frequent plays on the more discerning UK radio music programmes. She has been endorsed by, among others, Tom Waits and Guy Garvey of Elbow. She also has a very interesting background, including a musical Mormon family upbringing, living out in the wilderness and (a much-quoted fact) apparently serving as a childminder to Tom Waits. She has also been a resident of Manchester for the last few years.

The Glee Club is rapidly becoming my favourite Midlands small concert venue. It has a very intimate atmosphere and the acoustics are impeccable. Tonight’s gig is in the even more intimate Studio room, where there is no stage and the punters sit within a few feet of the artists. This arrangement particularly suits artists like Jesca Hoop, who depend on their subtle lyrics and arrangements being heard and appreciated by the audience.

The music of Jesca Hoop is difficult to describe or categorise. She is certainly an original and very interesting artist. She has an experimental alternative folk style, and is certainly quirky. The tunes are catchy, even poppy at times, but many of the song structures are quite complex, and her subject matter can be pretty deep and dark. She frequently seems to manage to sound commercial, yet also to be interesting and different. Her voice and songs are often haunting and sometimes remind me of Suzanne Vega, but there is some of the weirdness of Kate Bush or Joanna Newsom in there also.

Jesca comes on stage looking sort of Victorian-gothic, sporting a very striking and ornate heavy fabric dress, which makes you think that maybe you are about to hear country music. But this is an illusion, maybe defying you to try and categorise her. Much of her set tonight comes from the well-received new album, ‘The House that Jack Built’, as well as her previous album, ‘Hunting my Dress’. She opens with ‘Murder of Birds’, which has a beautiful melody, but seems to be about a very strange and destructive destructive love affair. The original recording featured Guy Garvey and the song is so catchy that somehow it makes you feel that you have heard it before.

She has a small and able backing band, but interestingly there is no drum kit (percussion effects, when needed, are electronically generated). Individual members of the band only play when required by the individual song and the arrangements are subtle and well thought-out. On the title track from the new album, she performs alone with no band, accompanying herself on guitar. ‘Hospital’ is another very catchy song, with memorable electronic percussion. Although jaunty, it thoughtfully references a child’s craving for injury to win parental attention. ‘DNR’ is a pretty deep song, reflecting on her father’s death, and with some strange and dark references, including mail order brides and phone sex. Meanwhile ‘Angel Mom’ refers to how her mother, dying from cancer, was persuaded to smoke marijuana to ease things. The closing song tonight is a murder ballad, ‘Tulip’, which takes us into further dark, yet more traditional American folk-song territory.

I went to see Jesca, mainly because I had heard her on Marc Radcliffe’s radio show and she sounded interesting and I like to seek out new artists. Before the show I listened to quite a few of her songs and performances on You Tube and was impressed. However, her performance tonight was pretty spell-binding and I came home a real fan.

Set List: Murder of Birds; Whispering Light; Feast of the Heart; Born To; Hospital; House that Jack Built; When I’m Asleep; Dig this Record; The Kingdom; DNR.; Angel Mom; Deeper Devastation; Encore: Hunting My Dress; Tulip.
Gig review and photos by John Bentley