Jesca Hoop @ Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh, 12 Oct

Jesca Hoop tells tales and lends her impressive voice to songs old and new for an appreciative Edinburgh crowd

Live Review by Max Sefton | 15 Oct 2019
  • Jesca Hoop

American singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop makes an immediate impact the moment she steps on stage in a white, almost country and western suit and picks up her black guitar.

As befits a wandering misfit, she’s left many of her old songs behind, choosing to focus on her latest record STONECHILD, a sparse and sometimes bloody exploration – “compassion project” – that muses on femininity, motherhood and intimacy in the modern world, delivered by an artist with a gift for arresting imagery.

Appropriately for an artist who lived in a chicken shack in a blackberry bush, worked for years in the remote corners of Arizona and spent a stint as nanny to Tom Waits' kids, Hoop is a natural raconteur, spinning yarns that span from rural America to a different kind of isolation as a gigging artist in LA.

She’s also quite funny – despite the sometimes bleak nature of her material – breaking off from introducing Murder of Birds to make clear that the titular birds are supposed to be swallows and to apologise for using the wrong collective noun.

The small but appreciative crowd seem to be enjoying what they hear. One particularly demonstrative whoop brings Hoop to a halt to offer the deep voice in question a role as a backing singer.

Her backing band deploy tasteful fiddle, shuffling drums and bright keys to lend subtle shadows to her gothic folk tales but the star of the show is the talkative Hoop, lending her impressive voice to both the new tracks and a few older songs such as 2017’s Memories Are Now.

The title track from STONECHILD is an earthy evocation that takes its name from the phenomenon in which a dead fetus, too large to be reabsorbed, develops a stone-like calcified shell to protect its host from infection. Likewise Outside of Eden is an unsettling exploration of porn, intimacy, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, which Hoop describes as her contribution to the world of sex education.

On a brief encore, she runs through the striking Time Capsule before her bandmates depart and leave Hoop to deliver a brief, beautiful a capella finale of Storms Make Grey the Sea. Bowing deep, she departs the stage but in this guise or another, she’ll surely be back telling her tales soon.