From the very first time I heard Jess Hill on the radio, while she was a part of the second Peak Performance Project, my ears were instantly in love. For a long time, I've had a soft spot for female artists with strong voices and a bit of a country edge -- for which I blame Neko Case -- and Jess Hill definitely fits.
It's been a couple years since she's released an album, and far too long since I've seen her play live, so I was excited to celebrate the release of her new EP Pieces. Jess invited people into her home for an intimate house show in her East Vancouver abode, dubbed Princess Haus, mixing friends and family and fans alike.
I got there just as Scott Bell was wrapping up his opening set. From what I caught, he seemed like a pretty decent, but standard singer/songwriter.
It wasn't long then before Jess Hill began her set, starting off alone with the title track to the new EP, "Pieces" before being joined by members of Maria In The Shower as her backing band. The folk-y, alt-country sound was driven by her gorgeous voice, which went from soft and heartbreaking in songs like "Capsized", to eerie and haunting in "Give Me Your Ghost", to strong and powerful in "Orchard", that very first song that hooked me instantly.
She was joined by Scott Bell for "It Don't Matter", also off the new EP, and included a few songs that were even newer, not yet recorded. One of which I didn't catch the name of, but was one of my favourites of the set, a beautiful but a somewhat dark song which had a sing along portion, and another which I believe was called "Pollinating", which had the lyrics to the chorus posted up on the wall, and they ended with the band walked off stage as they, along with the entire room, repeated the chorus. It was a really cool and memorable moment, the audience singing long after they were gone. And of course, due to overwhelming demand, she was back for one more song.
The show was very intimate, and Jess' demeanour on "stage" reflected that. It probably helped that it was a house show, but she has stage presence that draws you in, and her intimate lyrics makes you feel like you need to be drinking whiskey in a dimly lit cabaret.
After Jess there was a brief interlude with one of the members of Maria in the Shower and the drummer from The Nautical Miles improvising some jazz while two people did some improvised interpretive dance, and then The Nautical Miles finished the night with some fun, upbeat folk-roots. Frontman Corbin Murdoch was bursting with energy, and the whole band seemed almost too "big" for the living room space (proven when a light fixture paid the price) with songs like the effortlessly catchy "Mythmaker", and the anthemic "Something New For America", which had a few people singing and stomping along.
I enjoyed their set, and am looking forward to seeing them again soon, in a "proper" venue.