This past Monday Jesca Hoop played to an almost capacity crowd at the Rex Theater. The majority of the crowd (minus 2 overly ecstatic patrons) were there to see the string sensitive Punch Brothers. But something out of the ordinary happened at this show that I have rarely witnessed. Upon being introduced to the audience by lead PB Chris Thile, Jesca launched into her first song. From there, astonishingly, the crowd was silent throughout the set. Now, if you aren't from Pittsburgh, you won't understand this statement. But, to be kind, Pgh isn't known to be cordial for unknown, opening acts.
Playing a mix of folk ballads and earnest pop she commanded the rooms attention as if she was the headliner. Her voice reminds you of a young Kate Bush with her ceaseless range and pitch. The former Mormon and Northern California resident blended her music with the stories behind her songs. Before playing 'Whispering Light' JP explains that the ballad is about a conversation she had with her conservative Mormon mother as she suffered from stomach cancer.The exchange was preempted by teaching her mother how to smoke pot (that she sent via US Mail) over the phone. It brings a tinge of sweetness along with a melancholic sensibility.
The songstress will be releasing her new album in June, The House That Jack Built, that was on display at this show. The set included the title track which was the first time she had played the song to a live audience. Pittsburgh is special. I had the pleasure of listening to many of these tracks before this show, and while played with exceptional skill this evening, they were quite stripped down. That takes a little away from the album since many of these songs are more plush versions of her solo act. But it takes nothing away from her performance.
As my companion said this evening, "This is the best crowd response to an opening act I have seen in Pittsburgh." I couldn't agree more. The one criticism I did have is that her set was only able to support approximately 7 songs. I personally would have loved to hear more; maybe some reduction in the amount of 'stories' she would tell before each song. I hope she stops back.