Jesca Hoop - Castle Hotel, Manchester
It might have been one of the hottest days of the summer but Jesca Hoop still managed sell out one of the smallest (and least ventilated venues) in Manchester. Two albums into her career - and in the process of recording a third - Hoop may still be an unknown to the wider general public, but her powerful vocals and easy personality have ensured a dedicated and well-established fan base.
The bright, bubbly American appeared on the tiny stage supported by a fellow guitarist and a backing singer. Despite the hot room, she hid underneath a huge dark red hat with child-like plaits dangling either side of her face. Hoop was quick to dismiss the heat, claiming to be a ‘sun goddess’ from California but it was a front she could only keep up for so long.
The intimate performance was intended as a warm up for the festivals she had booked at the weekend. There were a few stops for coughing fits and some forgotten lyrics, but Hoop kept her audience onside with her funny stories and between-song chatter. It was hard not to be charmed by her tales of toe-eating lawnmowers and teasing a Britney Spears-hungry audience while on tour. She was also keen to explain some of her songs: ‘Ode to Banksy’ is about the revelation of the artist’s supposed identity and ‘Born To’ was written about a boy she knew who was born with his heart outside of his ribcage.
Musically, Hoop trades heavily on her impressive vocal range, switching from breathy tones to powerful and angry with ease. The backing is simplistic (handclaps, some maraca) but this keeps all the attention on the artist. If there was a weakness, the constant changes of pace stopped the evening from flowing properly, but the upbeat b-side 'Moon Rock' had the crowd dancing despite the heat.
The layout of the venue makes it more or less impossible for artists to leave the stage so Hoop did a pretend exit while still stood in front of the audience. Playing along, the crowd cheered and demanded two last songs. Giggling, Hoop blessed the crowd with a final message ('May the force be with you!') and sent a happy audience out into the relative comfort of the evening.
When it's hot, you've got to stay cool - which Hoop does, effortlessly.