Concert Reviews

Last Night: Imogen Heap at the Granada Theater

Imogen Heap, Back Ted-N-Ted, Tim Exile
Granada Theater
November 17, 2009

Better than: a night at home with your diary.

While many long-time fans of Imogen Heap will praise the deep emotional quality of her work, her quirky honesty is what may strike you initially when seeing this marvel of a woman perform live.

This quality was immediately evident during the opening song of her set last night at the Granada Theater: Heap felt obliged to re-do the track's initial verse to a religiously hushed audience after not being satisfied with the first go-round.

And she did it with a coy grin across her face as if she knew that her night was to be filled with tiny nuances.

Continuing the mood set by openers Back Ted N-Ted and Tim Exile, Heap treated the capacity Granada crowd to an organic evening of electronic-inspired music. (We're careful to use the term "electronic-inspired" here because, while the means of production are digital in their output, each of the night's performers put a charming spin that emitted a natural feel despite the lack of traditional instrumentation. If you thought that the purveyors of electronica couldn't wear their heart on their sleeve against a digital backdrop, maybe you should have been at this show.)

Heap was the one wild, animate piece of an intricate stage setup that had as it centerpiece a giant tree reminiscent of the pop-up books of our youth. Skittering between a MIDI keyboard/sampler station, her famed clear grand piano and various comfort spots on stage, Heap was able to stay on top of it all by way of her wireless microphone headset. Meanwhile, her hands alternately tinkered with instrumentation and fluttered about in playful opposition to her hauntingly poignant vocals.

What must be foregrounded here is the duality of Imogen Heap's stage presence: During the songs, she was the queen of her domain, arresting the mostly silent crowd with the precision of her voice and executing each arrangement nearly flawlessly--save that hiccup in the set's first verse.

But when the music was off, Heap presented a wholly different persona altogether. Due to a variety of unexpected technical glitches that charmingly interrupted the show, she was transformed from empowered songstress to giddy and slightly flustered schoolgirl. Heap took it all in stride, though, entertaining the crowd to audible laughter with a personality that can be described as nothing less than delightful. 

These glimpses into her humanity--which also included much muffled talking to self, plenty of chit-chat with the crowd, and the declaration "I need something... I need a man!"--were a welcome change from too many performers who seem to see the stage as a barrier between them and their audience. And while these moments lent an air of comfort to the room, it was the lofty nature of her music that ruled the evening. Rather than being distracting, Heap's heavily-processed sound acted more like the voltage that pumped the weary flesh back to vigorous life.

Much of the night was spent showing off her latest release Ellipse, which is her most wide-reaching work to date. And while the crowd seemed satisfied with this choice, it seemed that the few cuts that she played from 2005's Speak For Yourself elicited the biggest response; "Hide And Seek" (as expected) and "Headlock" were the audience-pleasers from that album. But that's not to say that her most recent effort is lacking in any way. No, it just seemed that the earlier work was simply more familiar to the concert-goers. Highlights from her new work included a chilling "2-1" and the extremely catchy "Swoon."

What a treat for the audience as well that Heap is so fond of crowd participation. The night included a couple sing-alongs, executed flawlessly thanks to the mastery of the performer's orchestration. She even brought up a local cellist during two tracks--the Polyphonic Spree's Buffi Jacobs accompanied on "Aha!" and "Canvas" after winning a contest that Heap hosted on live interactive video streaming web site Log.TV the night before.

The evening closed with Heap whispering a breathy "bye bye bye bye" to bring Speak For Yourself's "The Moment I Said It" to an end, before getting up from her piano and tossing a giddy "see you later" to an enamored Granada Theater and leaving the stage.

Yes Imogen, we will see you later.

Critics' Notebook

Personal Bias: Once again, the Granada's sound system was spot-on, playing nice with the haunting precision of Heap's vocals. Forgive me for a beating this horse to death, but it was her flippant on-stage attitude between songs juxtaposed with those vocals that most blew me away. It was truly impressive to watch someone flip that switch over and over again.

Random Note: Heap announced a special tie to the city of Dallas, dedicating her final song to local-bred surrealist artist Ryan Obermeyer, who has created art for her after asking if she'd ever consider using fan art for her professional purposes.

By the Way: An openly conversational Heap was very interactive with audience members at times, even going so far as to reply to shouted requests coming from the throng. In her response to one patron, she gave hope for those of you not lucky enough to get into this sold out show: "No, I won't play that tonight. But I'll be back in April, so maybe then."

Set list:

1. First Train Home [Ellipse]
2. Wait It Out [Ellipse]
3. Between the Sheets [Ellipse]
4. Headlock [Speak for Yourself]

5. Bad Body Double [Ellipse]
6. Speeding Cars [Speak For Yourself - Bonus Track]
7. Little Bird [Ellipse]
8. Half Life [Ellipse]
9. Aha! [Ellipse]*
10. Canvas [Ellipse]*

11. The Walk [Speak For Yourself]
12. Swoon [Ellipse]
13. 2-1 [Ellipse]
14. Tidal [Ellipse]
15. Hide and Seek [Speak For Yourself]

16. Just For Now [Speak For Yourself]

17. The Moment I Said It [Speak For Yourself]

* = songs with Buffi Jacobs.