Raised as a Mormon, previously a Californian homesteader and formerly a nanny to grizzled troubadour Tom Waits, the rainy streets of Manchester don’t seem the most obvious haven for such a free-spirited and genuinely eccentric talent as Jesca Hoop.
But having moved to Britain’s second city in 2009 after being discovered by another wisened mentor, Elbow’s Guy Garvey, the 36-year-old treats the final UK leg of her 2012 The House That Jack Built tour as something of a homecoming.
The 300-capacity crowd at the quaint but utterly charming Deaf Institute, whose décor of garish gothic wallpaper, massive disco balls and hugely uncomfortable mounted pews sits somewhere between 1970s Northern Soul music hall and 18th Century haunted theatre, certainly embrace her as one of their own.
Following a spellbinding support slot from acoustic indie-soul chanteuse and native Mancunian Josephine, Hoop commands the utmost attention from the moment she enters the stage dressed from head to toe as a convincingly ghoulish Day Of The Dead bride. In other hands, such a stunt may come across as a gimmick to distract from a lack of substance. But here, it acts as a complement to her other-worldly and bewitching set, whether it’s the entrancing murder balladry of “Tulip,” the brooding Twin Peaks-ish Americana of “Deeper Devastation” or the joyous Cyndi Lauper-meets-The Ting Tings 80s pop of “Hospital (Win Your Love).”
Her softly spoken between-song banter is equally curious. A blend of ‘away with the faeries’ ramblings and often hilarious deadpan anecdotes, she berates the lack of sunshine in her new hometown, reflects on the English translation of record breaking space jumper Felix Baumgartner’s surname and delivers a ‘where is this going?’ monologue about the man, born with a heart outside his body, that inspired the gutsy indie-rock of “Born To:”
Held all within these flesh walls
Pair of dice and domino
Seven fingers and thirteen toes
Wind her up and watch her go
Spin her out of dust into rock and fire
But it’s the tracks performed with little prior explanation that turn out to be the most compelling. The gut-wrenching Jeff Buckley-esque blues of “The House That Jack Built” deals with the task of clearing out her father’s house in the wake of his death, while the rustic nu-folk of “D.N.R.” is a devastating account of the most unsavoury moments of his battle with depression that even manages to stun the iPhone filmers into a state of static and silence:
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, he raised his kids up right
But bein’ raised in the light of Christ adds insult to injury that night
When the mail order brides and the phone sex and his negligence became real
The wall covered in spit how’s it to make your teenage daughters feel
And as the delicate and poetic “Hunting My Dress” brings the intimate but overwhelmingly unique show to a close, the rapturous response proves that Manchester has become just as enamoured with her oddball alt-folk as her celebrity backers.