Guest Review and Photo by Gregory A. Roach
Imogen Heap filled the hearts and minds of her adoring faithful last night at Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom even if she couldn’t actually fill the hall itself. The audience didn’t seem to care. Piling layer upon layer of ethereal sound until her lyrics were literally lost in the mix, she prowled the stage and preened her way through a fairly long setlist compiled and ranked earlier online by her fans. “I’m playing the top 12 or 14 in each city with an added four or so of my own.” she explained. This strategy guaranteed a touch of Frou Frou and a satisfying closer with the top ranked song held for her finale. “Hide and Seek” did not disappoint.
But she’s frankly not my cup of tea. A live show this tech assumptive may offer a geektopia of laptops, filters and mixing boards but for an old-head like me, too few actual musical instruments. The net result was a hot banquet poured from a can with one fresh element added. It didn’t work well for me. I like my meals from scratch.
The well-lit stage came to life under her dedicated band but each time they left her alone with her thin voice and her piles of blinking hardware, the fresh air of live performance seemed to leak back out.
Some of her looped recordings were created earlier in the studio while others were laid down live on the fly. But all were cycled again and again with harmonies and percussive textures added with each play until the mix was more akin to aural painting than actual songwriting. It crossed my mind that I was watching a leonine sculptress at work carving sound instead of marble, her fans as raptured by the falling sound chips as the actual work itself. Perhaps her colored vibrancy was on occasion overmixed to brown, but she certainly knows how to build her emotional peaks.
Alas, she was plagued all night and almost sabotaged by a series of technical gaffes so blatant they robbed her set of the pacing and momentum essential for a moving live performance. Whether she stopped to reboot an incalcitrant electric piano–and a looong reboot it was–or fumbled live for a missing audio jack or a switch that would bring a dead instrument mercifully back to life, her talent promised an emotional wallop that was doomed to dissipation under her uncomfortable stage patter while sorting problem after problem, distracted and at times visibly annoyed. Her fans loved every moment but I kept thinking of the satisfying rush she’d be capable of delivering if only her sound crew were as focused on her performance as she was. A show this computer complex could never truly be a one-woman affair. But it just goes to prove again if you want something done right, you really do have to do it yourself.
May 25, 2010, @ The Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC, General Admission/Standing $27.50 plus fees and taxes.
You can email the author at RoachGAR@aol.com