LondonNet Music Guide

Imogen Heap

Gig Review: Bush Hall, 21 November 2005

Upcoming gig tickets >>
Speak For Yourself album review >>
Interview with Imogen Heap >>
Buy Speak For Yourself at Amazon.co.uk >>

Geek Out & Go
Ever the inspiration for one-man-bands everywhere, rising songstress Imogen Heap brings pop intimacy to Bush Hall...

Imogen Heap is very tall, and I think most people are surprised, in the days of sprightly, pre-pubescent pop stars, to see her and have to gaze upward. Yet, even though she is tall, the massive crowd huddling in the haunting, square ballroom of Bush Hall obscures her voluminous, arty coiffure.

After an American tour, Imogen Heap has arrived home, and is performing this gig, as she says, to thank her London fans. The room is chock-a-block, so I gather there are more than just a few. She bounds on stage and chats to the crowd, and in one massive motion - at her request - the entire collection of people sits down.

Everyone who hears Imogen Heap, I've found, wonders how she manages to tinker around with so many different things in her studio, producing music that must be peeled, like an onion, in thin, mysterious layers. A consortium of claps, dings, bonks and buzzing accompanies her ethereal voice in every song, and my guess is that the room is filled with people not just because they enjoy her music, but because they want to see how one woman - albeit a tall one - can create so much sound.

Her set-up is interesting: a plucky little grand piano sits on the ground below the stage, due to space constraints, while her computer set-up remains in the stage spotlight. An Apple Powerbook, keyboard, her beloved Mbira, various mixing gadgets and Christmas lights create a little musical corner. White pillar candles drip from everywhere.

Heap opens on piano with a few old favourites, including I-Megaphone's Come Here Boy, Frou Frou's Let Go and an unusual cover of an Urban Species song, Blanket, which she co-wrote. Not one to spurn technology in any case, she programs and loops through backing vocals and taps, and winds her way from mellow piano into the crunchy pop of Speak for Yourself.

Up at her technological encasement (she hails this the "Geek Out" portion of the set), she continues into Speak for Yourself with a half-techno-mix of Headlock, and The Walk. For Clear the Area, she plonks readily on her Mbira, which she dragged around America and back, still intact. While most of her newer fans expect the upbeat, bumping backing tracks, her set-up didn't seem to provide the necessary chest-throbbing studio effects that make the tracks work in the album. Brave and winner of a multi-tasking award, yes, but not quite as big as Heap had likely intended.

Of course, she portions out O.C. favourite Goodnight and Go, as well as the most striking, popular track of the album, Hide and Seek, and ends the show with Loose Ends, and a sweet lullaby called Sleep. She encored with Frou Frou's Breathe In and the distilling, quiet The Moment I Said It.

Heap, in the midst of a rising tide of popularity (after a successful tour of the US, an upcoming track in the Chronicles of Narnia, a place in the Billboard 200, a top-pick in Itunes and a possible record deal), is brimming with plans for the future, and it seems she is enjoying her quickly moving pace. Her many fans and friends gathered into the room gave the gig a statement about hard work, about success. More than this, her rocking head and fanning vocals proved she was created to create - pounding and plucking and tapping and crooning.

Still, it seemed she is most memorable while perched on her piano, just her big voice, the keys and a few quiet tools to smooth along the ride. While her "geek out" is admirable in all of its technical merits, without the deep, heady backing tracks it sounds distorted and tinny.

Perhaps Heap agrees, as her next gig at the London Scala in February is with a live band, so she can get spend ample time "jumping around the stage."

Megan M. Retka

Upcoming gig tickets >>
Speak For Yourself album review >>
Interview with Imogen Heap >>
Buy Speak For Yourself at Amazon.co.uk >>