Imogen Heap has been touring in support of her latest LP ‘Eclipse’ for nearly a year now. Its success has taken Heap on a comprehensive trawl across the globe, allowing her to play her modern soul songs to fans both old and new in every continent. Tonight it’s the turn of O2 in Academy Liverpool to host the latest performance by the delightful Miss Heap.
This is the third time I’ve bought a ticket to see Imogen Heap on her current trek; the first time was for the riotous show at the Manchester Academy, the second for the more sedate affair at Leeds University, however both nights were thoroughly enjoyable and remain highpoints on my gig calendar. On both those occasions the support acts were Back Ted N Ted and Tim Exile, though for tonight’s show they’ve been replace by Ben Christophers and Geese. As before, Imogen Heap takes the unusual step of introducing the support acts herself. First is the upbeat and optimistic Ben Christophers who serenades the crowd with his guitar and some low-key beats from his laptop. Paradoxically, this simple instrumentation manages to amplify itself so his songs become capacious and mesmeric and the six song set was far too short for an artist of this calibre. The second act Imogen Heap presents to Liverpool is Vincent Sipprell and Emma Smith, otherwise known as Geese, who bravely offer up a dense concoction of electronically treated violins which required more concentration that the crowd are prepared to give. Maybe in another environment they may have received more appreciation, but the steadily rising volume of chatter from the crowd said not tonight.
It’s fairly easy to be smitten by Imogen Heap’s recorded work, the warm wash of mainly electronic sounds and dreamy vocals that comprise her three LPs are almost perfect exercises in modern pop. Her songs have a beautiful porous quality that with repeated listening lets the emotional core of the song seep gently though. However nothing can prepare you for the chaotic nature of her live show where things appear to be on the verge of falling apart, though obviously they never actually do. Thus the impossibly lovely Imogen Heap breezes onto a stage dominated by two theatrical props; a large tree on whose branches hangs a multitude of bells and whatnot, and a perspex grand piano. As the clock strikes nine she begins whirling a plastic tube around her head, the sound from which she manipulates for the first song of the evening, ‘The Walk’. From here on in, Imogen holds the audience firmly in the palm of her hand. For the second song she is joined by Ben Christophers and Geese plus bass player Armin Metz and drummer Chris Vatalaro who accompany her for the rest of the evening.
Imogen Heap is incredibly comfortable in front of a crowd showing a welcome lack of pretentiousness and egotism. She strikes up a great rapport with the audience, even pausing to mention that tonight is the first time in two years that she’s worn high heels on stage, but all talking stops when she plays her music. Whilst it’s true that this band can rock out with the best, especially on the muscular ‘Tidal, it’s the sections of the show where Heap flies solo which has the most resonance. There is a fabulous rendition of ‘Little Birds’ with Imogen sat at her see-through piano and using her spectacular voice to magical effect. It’s a beguiling moment that’s also incredibly moving. She talks to the audience in a very intimate natural way, sharing little stories, personal memories with lovers, birds in her garden and how her songs were formed and captured her imagination.
Sadly the evening’s entertainment is brought to a close with a Keytar and crowd aided sing-along of American hit smash ‘Hide and Seek’. Its quite spectacular to see the crowd engaging fully, she had them eating out of the palm of her hands and it sounded pretty good too!
It’s a wonderful show from an artist at the height of her powers whose music is both highly sensual and captivating. When she ambles about the stage picking up instruments or pushing down buttons, it’s hard to decide if Imogen Heap is an alchemist or a scientist. The truth probably falls somewhere between the two.
Review by Phil
Photos/videos by Mel