Tonight’s billing is one of singer-songwriters and, mercifully, from the moment he steps on stage with his accompanying cellist, Oliver Pinder confirms that he has just enough personality and just enough of an edge to make him noticeable against an increasingly crowded backdrop of the billion other singer-songwriters.
A slightly awkward first impression quickly gives way to a persona that is a bit apologetic, a bit clumsy but undeniably orchestrated to be like that. Carrying his very youthful shyness more like a sword than a shield, Pinder steadily wins the crowd over; firstly, with his on-stage banter and then with his confident and well-crafted music. It’s a combination of open-tuned guitar and melancholic keyboards all backed up by atmospheric cello which succeeds in adding an impressive degree of depth to the simple, emotional songs.
His voice sits in the gap between Two Door’s Alex Trimble and Tracey Chapman, gentle and soft with just the right amount of strain thrown in when it is need. At one point Pinder thanks the audience for being so quiet – “It’s like I’m playing in my bedroom” he says. To be fair, from our point of view it does seem at times that we are watching somebody who is just sat playing in their bedroom, such is the intimacy and relaxed nature of the set.
With two songs to go he steps down into the crowd to perform unplugged. His voice holds up well and manages to silence everything but the several cameras pointing his way and the hand dryer in the gents. It is the set’s ‘moment’, well designed and well executed.
I discovered, quite by chance, that it has been three years to the week since I last saw Jesca Hoop perform live. On that night, she cut a lonesome but captivating figure on this same stage and gave the type of performance that many, much more commercially successful acts would chop their feet off just to get close to. It was a show that I have often spoken about in the time that’s passed. Tonight, however, she is joined by her full band which immediately begs the question will it be possible to be as engaging with a full gambit of musicians surrounding her on stage? The answer, quite simply, is very nearly.
Sporting her usual slightly wild, piled up hair and sporting the most extravagant sleeves you could ever hope for, Hoop opens the evening with ‘Songs of Old’ in typically ethereal style before welcoming us to the show “Hello Leeds, hello neighbours”. Her voice unapologetically challenges you to give your full attention in between songs for fear of missing any of her hushed quips, and she heads straight into another fresh tune ‘Animal Kingdom Chaotic’. Her new album, ‘Memories Are Now’ is strong and the songs representing it tonight all stand up well against older favourites like ‘Peacemaker’ and ‘Deeper Devastation’, the former of which is given a much more imposing and substantial feel here tonight.
Halfway through Hoop gets in some criticism of “The Orange One” currently trying to ruin the world from the other side of the pond, telling her audience “I’d apologise for that but I don’t know how to apologise for that”, instead she gives an exquisite rendition of ‘Pegasi’ which provides the best example of her musicianship – intricate guitar lines run underneath a remarkable and effortless vocal range that has a depth and richness that you’d be hard pushed to better.
Once the rest of the band are reintroduced the dynamic changes completely, with the title track of the new album and ‘Dig This Record’ both taking on filled out guises of themselves – the first is a near carbon copy of the album version and the second is given a much sleazier swagger that elevates it from the original recording.
The set closer, the rousing ‘Born To’, is the only slight disappointment of the evening and is the only version that has less of an impact live. However, this minor wrong is easily righted, and then some, by the encore. Hoop returns on her own to let us bathe in the mystical and utterly absorbing ‘City Bird’ which somehow manages to surpass anything we’ve already been treated to so far tonight.
So, three years on and this time with a full band allowing a wider ranging set I have, once again, fallen completely in love with Jesca Hoop’s ever-changing creations. But, for me, it is still the individual renditions that carry the full, understated power of her music. In this venue, in that way, her music is flawless and it shines.