The evenings back home in Jesca Hoop’s home state of California couldn’t be more different from London tonight, which is dreary, rainy, cold and dark. But then Hoop herself is far from sunny and light.
The tone for the night is set straight away, with support act George Ezra, who snaps the early assembled crowd to attention. It’s like that moment on The X Factor, when someone wearing a shell suit, talking about their job in a pie factory comes on stage and none of the judges can be bothered to talk to them, so it’s left to Nicole to get them to shut up and sing. And then they’re good and everyone cries. He’s not exactly wearing a shell suit, but no one could’ve anticipated that voice coming out of the nervously mumbling young figure on stage. Warm, gravelly and absolutely huge, it’s like he invented the blues – seriously, it’s that big. People by the bar leave sentences hanging as everyone drifts over to see who on earth is making that noise. As he casually strums an accompaniment, lyrics melt away, overshadowed by his voice. When Jesca Hoop left the States to make her home in Manchester she also left her job as Tom Waits‘ nanny, but she may have found a replacement voice in Ezra.
If Hoop was worried about being overshadowed by her support act, she certainly made sure her outfit wouldn’t be. She takes to the stage dressed in a medieval velvet dress with feather cap-sleeves, her hair piled high with markings on her face. A natural story-teller, she has the audience in the palm of her hand throughout. Softly spoken but engaging, she brings her songs to life, telling the tales behind them and anecdotes from playing them on this tour, which draws to a close tonight. From a narcoleptic who requested Angel Mom, from 2009′s Hunting My Dress, in Newcastle and promptly slept through it, to a strange encounter with a man on magic mushrooms on a beach in California that inspired Born To, she’s at ease in her cosy, basement surroundings. “I wish this song wasn’t so personal,” she giggles, ahead of Hospital, one of the highlights from her most recent album The House That Jack Built. “I saw a tweet the other day that said ‘I like this song, but the lyrics really disturb me.”
Hoop is backed by a full band tonight, including two backing singers, who join her in kooking up Dig This Record and belting out a brilliant version of When I’m Asleep, which sees her lose herself in some Kate Bush-esque arm movements. The title tracks from her last two albums are highlights too, and see her step away from the band and take a more gentle approach.
As her Twitter commentator correctly pointed out, some of her lyrics are on the creepy side, and Hoop herself at one point shrugged: “There can never be too many sad songs,” but she delivers them in a way that very few people can. She’s uplifting but sincere; the too-glossy elements of her last album have been roughed up for her live show. Where The House That Jack Built felt too polished, live her vocal kooks kick in; proof if ever there was, that sometimes, only live will do.