Imogen Heap / December 3, 2009 / Brooklyn, N.Y. (Music Hall of Williamsburg)
Watching Imogen Heap flutter around the stage Thursday night (Dec. 3) at Brooklyn's Musical Hall of Williamsburg was very much like watching a child let loose in a toy store. Throughout her mesmerizing performance, which was also streamed live in HD for fans on BillboardLive, Heap happily bounced from one instrument to another, picking up chimes and playthings and feverishly looping sounds and soprano vocals, her foot-tall teased hair fraying in the process.
With tiny microphones taped to the inside of her wrists, Heap was able to turn anything into a waveform of music. She ran across the small stage and dangled bells, banged gongs and tinkered with other objects to magnify to the audience.
The display of innovation made it clear why Heap earned two Grammy Award nominations this week for "Ellipse," her latest album that debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 107,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. She landed one nod for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical and another for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for album cut "The Fire."
On this night, Heap opened her set with the album's lead single "First Train Home," emerging on stage with a water-filled wine glass in hand and stationing herself behind an assortment of keyboards and sound equipment. Running her finger around the rim of the glass, her wrist microphones picked up the single, clear note as it permeated the venue before being looped along with breath noises, jingling bells, chimes and keyboard notes. By the time Heap sang the song's first verse, the hall swelled with different notes and noises, mixed to create an awe-inspiring melodious sound.
Heap performed favorites from 2005's "Speak for Yourself," including "Headlock" and "The Walk," and new numbers like "Wait It Out," "Bad Body Double," "Half-Life" and "Little Bird." The latter was inspired by one of her numerous "garden visitors" and brought to life by a flock of flying shadow birds flying around the stage.
Yet even Heap cannot produce all of those sounds by herself. Before continuing with her set, she introduced her band, whose members also happened to be her three opening acts. Joining them was a multi-talented drummer who simultaneously played the bass by utilizing military technology in his throat, improvising the melody.
Back Ted N-Ted provided guitar chords and backing vocals in a very Imogen Heap fashion. In his opening set, he played with his own electronic toys, looping and creating tech beats. His power electronic anthem "The War is Over" had the crowd -- and himself -- chanting and jumping to the infectious beat.
Ted Exile acted as Heap's mix-master during her higher tempo tracks, most notably in the song "Back Body Double," where Heap guested and showed off her rapping skills. During Exile's own set, the Englishman created each track from scratch. Armed with a portable joystick, he somehow managed to control every sound with a flick of the wrist. At one point he jumped into the crowd and delivered one of the most intriguing renditions of "Happy Birthday" to an ecstatic concertgoer. In a surprising move, Exile also passed around his microphone and instructed audience members to say whatever came to mind. Using the soundbites, he created a continuous mix, looping each new sound someone made into the mic.
Heap also brought out her friend and cellist, Zoe Keating, who treated the antsy crowd to two pieces, "Escape Artist" and "The Optimist." Keating managed to silence the entire audience with her alluring combination of classical cello and looping effects.
Yet while Heap is mostly known for her breathy tales of love, life and heartbreak, the chilling soprano also displayed quite a comically chatty side. Between each song, Heap would recall the story behind it, usually one with a comical twist, such as the story behind the eerie track "Aha!," which is a tale of a first date gone wrong.
Heap closed the set with "Tidal" before quickly returning a three-song encore assisted by the audience. She performed crowd favorite and Jason Derulo-sampled "Hide and Seek" with a sparkly keytar in hand, and then performed an a cappella version of "Just For Now," off her 2005 album. During the latter number, Heap sectioned off the audience into three parts and assigned each one a different harmony. Sitting at her clear-cased piano, she finally closed the show with the emotionally powerful "The Moment I Said It."
Here's Imogen Heap's set list:
"First Train Home"
"Wait It Out"
"Bad Body Double"
"Hide and Seek"
"Just for Now"
"The Moment I Said It"