Review: Jesca Hoop

Originally published on Weds 23 March 2011 at http://www.digyorkshire.com/HighlightDetails.aspx?Article=1176

Jesca Hoop / Elijah at Sea /Me and My Friends

The Cockpit 3, Leeds, 23 March 2011

★★★★

“It’s like playing in an air raid bunker in here”, Jesca Hoop announces from the stage, as I struggle to find space to stand in The Cockpit’s tiny third room.  I’m inclined to agree – the low, metal-clad semicircle roof adds a certain Anderson shelter quality to the place.  I can imagine too how I wouldn’t last long in such a setting: peering over rows of heads in a vain attempt to see the stage, I find myself fighting off the urge to cause harm to a tall youth behind me, who has had cause to intermittently clap with deafening velocity through her last few quieter songs.

I suspect that Jesca is used to performing in more pleasant surroundings.  Last time I saw her was at the Hebden Bridge Trades Club, a cosy, guitars-and-ale sort of place, where she performed a terrific folky-jazzy-rock set with a full band.  Tonight though, it’s stripped down: Jesca and her guitar plus a backing singer (whose name – I’m sorry to say – I can’t recall) are performing tracks from her new album, Snowglobe.  She’s comparable with Regina Spektor – not simply because she’s a solo female artist, but because of their shared love of bare chords, an intense lyrical emotionality, and striking vocal creativity.

Raised by a Mormon family in Northern California, Jesca recently swapped her native, warm surrounds for slightly rainier Manchester.  Since doing so she’s received heaps of critical acclaim  – including from Tom Waits, no less – but, sadly, there’s something missing this evening.  Perhaps it’s the room, or the aforementioned clapping youth, but she doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders.  In fact, I think she’s been outshone by the support acts on this measure.

In particular, I find myself leaning towards the possibility that tonight’s openers, Me and My Friends, have stolen the show.  With a combination of reggae-infused folk combined with a hint of bossa nova and jazz, they’re the sort of band that you usually only find in a festival tea tent at 4am.  Between them, there’s a congas, clarinet, cello and, as they huddle on stage, it’s just about possible to make out lead singer and guitarist Nick Rasle, a man with a lovely gentle voice reminiscent of Devendra Banhart.  Listening to them is musical sunshine: just as the artist John Ruskin once remarked that ‘one cannot be angry when one looks at a penguin’ – it’s also true that one cannot be sad when listening to Me and My Friends.

Elijah at Sea have to cram on stage even more, with seven or possibly more members in various states between standing and crouching over their instruments – but the result is some fiercely energetic shouty alt-rock.  (I never thought I’d write that).  Not particularly my cup of tea, but I do appreciate the dramatic posing of the rhythm guitarist during the set.

At the end of the gig, Jesca announces that she’ll be with the full band in Manchester on Friday 26th March.  I’d recommend that you check her out again there – to me, at least, that’s how she sounds best.

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