Live review

Club Uncut: Jesca Hoop, Simone White - June 30, 2009

“It’s hot as a witch's tit in this room,” says Club UNCUT headliner Jesca Hoop. “I’m going to have to retune my guitar real quick… cos it sounds like a witch's tit. So if you’ve ever wondered what a witch's tit sounds like, then this is it.” Today has been the hottest day of the year so far in the capital. Despite the welcoming evening cool outside, temperatures in the newly-refurbished Upstairs At The Garage in north London are unforgivingly high. But in some respects, you couldn’t have wished for a better line-up at Club UNCUT in heat like this.

White – the daughter of a folk singer and sculptor who spent some of her childhood on a hippie commune in Northern California – brings a breezy, ‘60s coffee-house vibe to her songs, while Hoop, as perhaps befits the former babysitter of Tom Waits’ children, can be a little more leftfield with her melodies. But both of them have a beguiling charm that goes some way to soothing the otherwise punishing heat in here tonight.

Simone White, opening for Jesca, at least has the foresight to wear a light summer dress, as opposed to Hoop’s long-sleeve lace number and a knee-length skirt. All the same, she still finds the time to reflect on the differences between American and European air-con systems (the result? We loose). “I’m melting up here,” she gasps, before shrugging: “It’s OK. It’s good for the vocal chords.”

It’s possible you caught White live on last year’s Honest Jons Revue, performing on the same bill as label boss Damon Albarn, Tony Allen, Candi Staton and Victoria Williams, or heard her “Beep Beep Song” on the soundtrack to an Audi car commercial. Tonight, just her and a guitar, her voice reminds me sometimes of the smoky softness of Suzanne Vega or Cat Power; she sings very quietly, yet with incredibly precise annunciation. Although the songs themselves appear gentle and graceful enough, you sense they address more significant issues. She introduces “Great Imperialist State”, from her 2007 album I Am The Man, as being about “the disconnect between the things we consume and where they come from”. There’s songs, too, about her grandmother “a singer and dancer in the 50s” (“Mary Jane”), the shocking antics perpetrated at a teen party “dropping white pills into pink lemonade” in “Candy Bar Killer", and an 80 year-old woman she knew who wanted to die (“A Girl You Never Met”).

White and Hoop, it turns out, are old friends. Hoop explains they “spent a lot of time living in a French-style house with a big oaktree in Tapanga Canyon.” Hoop is joined on stage for parts of her set by a second guitarist Johny Lexus and a backing singer Amy May. They’re playing their first gig together, Hoop tells us, before opening with a new song, “Whispering Light”. Tom Waits himself has described Hoop’s music as “like going swimming in a lake at night”; for my part, I think there’s something both theatrical and elemental to Hoop’s songs that remind me, fleetingly, of Kate Bush or Bjork. Her voice shifts into different registers, while the lyrics frequently mention skies, rivers, storms and winds’ or enchanted places where the boundaries shift and the dead might come back to life or animals talk. But, please, there’s nothing twee or precious here. She’s a great between-song raconteur, bantering about the collective nouns for birds with the audience, or how she lost her dress and car keys at Glastonbury, or opening “Intelligentactile 101” with “This is a children’s story. I heard it from my nephew. When my sister was pregnant. Except he turned out to be a girl. So I had some explaining to do.”

We’re treated to five new songs, presumably destined for her forthcoming album Hunting My Dress (nothing to do with her Glastonbury experience, so claims), before returning to sing one final song, “Storms”, a cappella. Then it’s out into the night, and the fresh air.

We'll be back for more Club UNCUT, at the Lexington on Pentonville Road, N1, on July 27. And that'll be Arbouretum's delayed show from March. Should be good. Before then, though, UNCUT will be covering Blur's Hyde Park show on Thursday this week.


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