Imogen Heap - Bridgewater Hall Manchester - 1.10.06

Like Sinatra, Imogen Heap did it her way. With someone as gloriously eccentric as Heap it was the only way it could be done with record labels wary of a woman not afraid to speak her own mind and make a record that stands up alongside Kate Bush's and Bjorks finest as one of the most strikingly individual and genius records of all time. Learning her craft in the underrated Frou Frou, Heap set about recording an album that managed to marr traditional organic instruments with technology in such as way that it touched peoples soul while pushing music forward in a creative way. Spreading across the net and podcasts around the world prior in an natural way rather than a forced marketing managed Lilly Allen style, her tracks were featured on the teen drama The OC and the labels came knocking to take an already successful independent release out to the populous en mass.

Earlier in the year Imogen's Heap performance in Manchester was one that saw her hidden behind a wall of synths and technology that left many cold, which goes to explain why this time for the larger theatre tour she's brought a band along with her to beef up the sound and make it more human again. Walking on stage the kooky overblown and overdressed Heap looks like the sort of character you expect in Little Britains "Im a lady" sketches and this eccentricity continues throughout the show with Heap introducing her instruments by name and leaping across the carpeted floor which envelops images of Alice In Wonderland.

Musically there's such a rich vein of influences running through Imogen's music. The vocals are pure english folk with all its affectations, but it would take a trained ear to notice this with the amount of effects laden on it from the vocoder to the harmonizers which makes Cher's "I Believe" effects seem pale in comparison. And the ability to shift between pure ambience and electroclash throughout the set is a gift which is fully realized by the band which definitely give a rock edge and ability to change the feel of the songs from what we've heard on the recorded versions on "Speak For Yourself".

Although its a mixed audience from fans of the OC to older audience members who'd normally be at the Bridgewater for classical recitals they're all united as one in their love of the singles "Headlock" and "Hide And Seek" despite the fact that the whole show flows as one long body of music, even if Imogen does jitter around between each successive piece.

There are few people who can touch Imogen both musically and as a live entertainer and many felt they were in the presence of genius tonight. More people achieve a musical reverence once they've passed away, but Imogen's living breathing body of work is already held in such high regard.

Alex McCann

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