Enchanting British songstress Imogen Heap returned to our shores after only a year has passed, to play at an intimate show for her Adelaide fans. With her last album Ellipse having been released two years ago and new songs in the works, I am anticipating an exciting show from this renowned eclectic and creative performer.
We arrive at the Dunstan Playhouse and take our assigned seats, looking down from the high slope of the auditorium to the stage awash with a dusky blue light. There is a skeletal, white tree branch, glowing, suspended over a transparent piano. Given the venue and eerie stage design I almost feel like I am here to see a contemporary performance of MacBeth. After a short while, Imogen Heap unexpectedly pops on to the stage, to introduce her support act, Vorn Doolette. She tells us that she always chooses a local act from each city she visits as her support, and that Doolette was recommended to her by American guitarist Kaki King. I saw Kaki King play the last time she was in town, and caught Doolette’s support spot then also. I remember him playing for a very long time, but still not really managing to grab my attention. This time was a bit different. Doolette’s whimsical poetry and narrative style alternates between sweet, melancholy, Nick Drake-ish folk songs and funny, witty little numbers. He had roped the audience in with his oddball sense of humor, which included an amazing dolphin impersonation. However, it is clear that he is a tallented singer and songwriter.
Vorn Doolette finishes his set and there is barley a fifteen minute wait before Imogen Heap has again takes to the stage and seats herself at the keyboard. This time she is joined by a drummer and cellist. The first thing I notice, as the opening bars of “The Walk” fill the air, is the crisp clarity of sound in the high-ceilinged Playhouse. The theatre is small and intimate but is also designed with acoustics in mind. The beat kicks in and suddenly Heap is on her feet and striding across the stage. She is wearing a headset mic, allowing her to move freely around the stage, but what’s more, she is wearing two microphones on her wrists. These wrist mics pick up the sound of whichever instrument she is playing, allowing for that amazing clarity of sound. Heap’s honeyed voice has amazing depth live, and her energy and fervour to express herself with her music is immediately evident.
Heap is also a story-teller, both with her songs and also in the conversational way she addresses the crowd. She is strongly focused on engaging her audience, breaking down that barrier between the stage and the fans. She does this by telling stories, introducing her songs with rambling tales of where they came from and what they mean. We are given insight into her writing process and, whats more, Heap also explains that she had given her Adelaide fans the opportunity to submit their favorite songs on her website, from which she would choose twelve to play. “Adelaide, this is your show,” she tells us. The first request to be played was “Goodnight And Go” off 2005’s Speak for Yourself. Heap has so much adorable energy, as she jumps up mid song to bounce across the stage to dance, or to change keyboards. She has also set up a sequencer to allow her to record and loop sounds she is making on her many strange and wonderful instruments, often running over to sample snippets of drums and cello, and even looping her own vocal beat, claps and various other odd sounds. We are introduced to such instruments as a waterphone, whirly and marxophone. The effect is incredible and it is intriguing to witness the construction of songs live like this. With her wrist mics, drumming, sampling, looping, piano, synth and everything in between, Imogen Heap could almost be a one-girl band!
She also tells us how the writing of her latest online-released song “Lifeline” came about. She had asked fans to send in sounds, just random sounds from their everyday life, and she would incorporate these into her song. There are few artists out there who have embraced the power of communication between fans and artists as much as Imogen Heap.
Heap also takes a moment to talk about her time spent collaborating with musician/producer Guy Sigworth as the band Frou Frou, before performing “Let Go”, one of the band’s most well known songs. The next song would require crowd participation and Heap sections the auditorium off into thirds, each third being responsible for part of bringing together the chorus of “Just for Now”, also off Speak for Yourself. It seems the fans who voted online took their favorites off Heap’s earlier releases, however other songs performed, including “Bad Body Double”, “Between Sheets” and “Half Life”, were all off her 2009 album Ellipse. The set rounded off with the lively “Tidal”.
Heap shimmies across the stage, weaving the threads together into an amazing tapestry of sound. She has the kind of musical and artistic genius that is constantly thinking of new ways to create, new sounds and new ways to experience music. Imogen Heap is one of the few artists out there who truly see the liberating potential that is created when the wall between the artist and the fan is torn down. She wants her fans to be as involved in her music as she is, she wants them to experience her songs. Imogen Heap’s live show is definitely an entertaining experience and an insight into just how creative and imaginative an artist she really is.