An Evening With Imogen Heap

I knew of Imogen Heap; her name is uncommon enough that once you hear it, it tends to stick in your memory. I knew of her from the song “Let Go,” featured years ago in the soundtrack to Garden State (though it took some time before I learned that strange voice belonged to a woman!). Beyond that I had heard a couple songs here are there, especially on Pandora, where her music would sometimes come up as part of some of my playlists. So I knew of Imogen Heap, but I didn’t really know Imogen Heap. Until last night.

It was my wife’s idea to go see her in concert at The Fillmore in Miami Beach; tickets were cheap, general admission and given her non-top-40-radio status, the attendance would probably be manageable. Sure! And then it snuck up on me. Yesterday I played her latest album, which you can stream from her website, but that was it. I was going in cold, ready to soak up the new music.

There were three short opening acts: Euphoria, a trio of high-school kids from Boca Raton who won a contest held by Imogen; Geese, a violin/strings duo who are also part of Imogen’s band; and Ben Christophers, a guy and his guitar, also part of Imogen’s band. They each played 3 songs (Ben did 4) and were each good. The kids from Boca were very good for this being their first show (and what a show!); Geese was weird (in a good way), using computers, loops and effects to create soundscapes; and Ben was fine with his guitar, especially on a very trip-hoppy number that actually got the audience listening. About half an hour after these three acts were done, Imogen took the stage.

Actually, she had already been on stage before, introducing each of the acts and just chatting with the audience. The first thing that struck me, and many others around me from what I could hear, was how engaging she was, how genuinely funny and down-to-earth. She joked, she answered questions (favorite drink: whisky mac – whisky with ginger wine), she connected. The relative smallness of the venue (though the Fillmore isn’t that small) and the general admission/standing room environment just fostered the connection and she knew how to use it.

The concert itself was a-ma-zing, and this from someone who only knew two songs out of the entire setlist. It didn’t matter, she played each and every song to the fullest, giving herself entirely to each piece, and making sure she took us along for the ride at every musical step of the way. Some songs it was just her haunting, melodious and unique voice along with an array of keyboards, loop machines, bells, percussion instruments and water-filled wine glasses, and other songs featured the band lending in even more musical power. Either way, each performance was spectacular and a work of art.

She played both songs of hers that I knew going in, which is great. On “First Train Home” she built up by playing the water-filled wine glasses and going from there, and later on she played “Let Go,” which, as they say, brought the house down and which was just superb. She also did “Earth,” from her latest album, and for this song she brought in the kids from Euphoria. The contest Imogen held was to look for a group (local to each city she’s playing in) to help her sing this song on stage with her. The three kids were nervous, but they did a fantastic job on this acapella song with Imogen. The two girls from Euphoria did a great job singing along with Imogen, complementing her own voice at times, playing around it at others, and they even got a couple lead verses here and there, while the guy carried the entire song’s rhythm beatboxing. She also did a song called “Just For Now” in which she had the audience sing the three-part background vocals, creating one of those magical moments where the entire concert hall was engaged in one moment of art, not as performer & spectator, but as a single performing organism.

When the show was done I was ecstatic that I had heeded my wife and come to this concert. I went in knowing of Imogen Heap and liking what I’d heard, but I left a fan. Her genuine engagement with the audience at every single moment of the night, during and in between songs, made me feel that she was truly grateful for my support of her art, and she rewarded me with amazing music and an unforgettable performance. Fourteen years ago, in 1996, I saw also for the first time and at this very same theater, Tori Amos during the Dew Drop Inn. I felt last night like I felt 14 years ago, like I had just witnessed the start of a beautiful musical friendship.

Here are some pics I took and sent to Twitter during the show, but check Flickr for much better photos.

Photos above are by Nivium and are used by permission.