Sunday, 7 November 2010

Imogen Heap Strikes Back...

(This picture is nothing to do with me, I just got it off the internets)

Imogen Heap
Royal Albert Hall
5th November 2010
Rating: 5/5

Once again I found myself at an Imogen Heap gig, and since I don't own any albums I'm sitting there, vaguely wondering whether the thirty pounds plus train fare was going to be worth it. Was she really that good last time, or is it just my memory playing tricks on me?

For the first set, pre-interval, the orchestra takes their places and the maestro enters, complete with sequinned conductor's jacket. What follows is a film entitled Love the Earth, and, as is her wont, the film has been compiled by fans, with Imogen writing the score whilst on her most recent tour.

Her first attempt at audience-participation falls a bit short, as the crowd don't really seem to get into it, or even try at all. This is a bit of a shame, as it's kind of the trademark of her shows, as well as the fact that drone notes are cool. Anyway, as the only person in my area of the crowd under thirty, and judging by the number of bottles of fifty quid champagne I saw bought at the bar, I get the feeling a lot of people here think themselves a little above it all. Their loss.

The orchestral pieces that follow vary in interest and intensity; undoubtedly the most cacophanous is the crescendo to passage 8 ('Beauty') as a horn section rudely enters the mix and very much renders the sweeping strings below reminiscent of Takk-era Sigur Rรณs. The highlight of the entire piece is the gripping 5b ('Unseen') that begins with an acoustic guitar in much the same vein as 'The Bell' by Mike Oldfield, before gradually bulldozing away every instrument present with percussion and orchestral flourishes. It's absolutely breathtaking, and since I assume the whole show is being filmed for a future release, I'm sure you'll get the chance to see what I mean before long.

When passage 1b comes back, the crowd actually attempt to sing the drone note and add the whispers that Imogen requests (maybe that champagne has hit the mark by now?), and the effect is remarkable, especially in a building with the acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall.

With that, she's done, and there's an interval before her main set.

Returning for her main set, I'm instantly reminded of why I'm here: whatever Imogen sounds like on the record, the fact is that live, she's fronting a rock band. A really weird, weird, rock band, yes, but a rock band nevertheless. It's the sonic experimentation of playing such a bizarre plethora of percussion and obscure instruments within the context of this band that makes her live show so arresting, so vital. Bringing in, for example, violins and cello is cool, but it isn't that uncommon- Muse, Smashing Pumpkins, off the top of my head have both gone down that road, and that's before we've even got into the utter pretentious tosh that the Verve were doing with Ashcroft at the helm.

Uhm, where was I? Oh yes. So basically, Imogen Heap is probably the most talented single musician in any kind of musical mainstream right now. Yep, that's right. I can listen to other musicians and kid myself that yeah, sure, with a year off work and a piano/drum kit/glockenspiel/fucking nose flute I could be that good, but I'm just sitting there feeling inadequate on a very deep level, and that's the sign of being confronted with true talent. Don't agree with me? Then I will fight you. Fight Club style- no shirt, no shoes, no belt, no rules.

What did she play? Who cares, it's all good. 'Last Train Home' was a highlight, and 'Tidal' was the best track, as usual, but yes she did play 'Hide and Seek' and 'Speeding Cars', and yes, they were great. Just do yourself a favour and go and see her live. Who gives a shit that they don't sell male t-shirts at the merch desk? You insecure philistines.

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