Thursday, December 08, 2022

Hoop Hits Hare and Hounds

Jesca Hoop is an American-born singer, songwriter and musician who is currently celebrating the release of her fifth studio album, Order of Romance, with a European tour that brought her through Birmingham on December 6th.

To attempt a description of Hoop is a challenge since her styling changes with each phase of her musical journey. For this current tour, you could put Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Joan Baez into a blender and pour the resulting puree into a tall pink kimono, supported on high wooden platforms. It’s a mix of Woodstock folk sentiment processed through a lens of modern life and, in particular, Hoop’s upbringing and relationship with her mother.

Originally due to play at the city centre’s Glee Club, the gig was rerouted at short notice to the Hare and Hounds, a few miles south of the city in the peculiarly Bohemian suburb of King’s Heath. The result was an audience that seemed to be stocked more with H&H regulars rather than Hoop fans per se. Still, they were very appreciative of Hoop’s quieter, more introspective approach to music compared to the heavy metal crashing around in the room downstairs.

Introspective was certainly a theme of the setlist, with songs new and old telling stories about Hoop’s Mormon origins, sex, the influence of religion in her family life, independence and her relationships with her mother, father and siblings. Overall, a musical autobiography that the audience occasionally related to, since the beliefs of the Mormon church are a far cry from the industrial suburbs of the UK’s second city. However, her curious blend of harmonies, both subtle and discordant, and her deft use of instrumentation created a reverent silence in what would normally be a much livelier environment. The fact that Hoop’s two accomplices, Chloe Foy and Kirana Peyton, arrived on stage wearing what looked like the colourful matching outfits of the clergy or perhaps gospel singers only served to add to the odd contradiction between Hoop’s occasional barbed comments about religion and the sermon-like musical presentation to the quiet and respectful congregation.

The opening song, ‘Hatred has a mother’ is taken from the new album and is a good introduction to Hoop’s musical style and approach to lyrics and songcraft. It’s a song about understanding and forgiving people who might have wronged you in life which is a difficult story to get from the lyrics alone, such is the intrinsic bond between the lyrics and the music within the entire performance and meaning. “We are broken people / We fall and break the Earth / So the deal was written / And contracted at birth / And If I’m to be worthy / Of mending any hurt / I must tend my wounds first”.

Many of the songs are so personal to Hoop’s life and told through such complexly poetic lyrics that the performance takes on the tone of a modern art installation, leaving the viewer thinking, “I have no idea what it means but I love it”. One notable departure is ‘Lyrebird’, a call to arms for climate change and a reminder that the damage that we do to the world is itself an extension of the damage we’re doing in our own lives. “The lyrebird mimics the chainsaw”.

Hoop notes that the venue, with its front entrance to the stage, does not lend itself to a surprise encore and so offers the audience the chance to choose the last song. Whether any such suggestion was forthcoming or not, the final song was already on the setlist - ‘Shoulder Charge’, released on the 2019 album ‘Stonechild’. The lyrics tell a story of struggling alone and the solace found in a shared moment of understanding with a stranger. “I’ve been going through something quietly, so quietly / Nobody knows my trouble, nobody knows / I dress myself for city streets / These leathers shield my sadness / So nobody sees, nobody sees … If I told you what’s been really going on / Surely I’d have lost your love / There was no one I could trust to understand / Something so personal … I found myself holding the thread / That I might trust a friend / That we might just all be in this together / Empathy’s contagious / We gathered ‘round a spring fed well / What a tale to tell / And what a fucking relief / That nothing one can go through / Has not been shared by two”.

Nothing one can go through has not been shared by two - it’s a fitting description of the intimate relationship that the audience has formed with Hoop by the end of her 100-minute set. She doesn’t write songs about generic shared experiences that the audience can relate to, she writes songs about her own, very specific experiences that draw the audience in. She isn’t writing to show that she understands the audience, she’s writing to make the audience understand her.

It’s a thought-provoking approach that is certainly worth a listen.

Peter Freeth

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Images: Peter Freeth

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