There’s something big happening at the Academy tonight. Not every gig would you expect to see three identical Austrian registered double-decker tour buses, two identical Swiss registered container trucks and a cherry picker parked at the rear of the venue. Anyone would have thought there was an American Idol performing… As it happens, tonight’s line up is filled with two Grammy Award Winners. Kelly Clarkson is taking over O2 Academy 1 (and most of the back streets behind the venue), O2 Academy 2 was left for Imogen Heap; the original, alternative modern music master known more affectionately as ‘Immi’.
With the gig being held on a Saturday, there’s a curfew in place. Walking into the room a couple of minutes late is like walking into a steam room. I’ve never seen Academy 2 so full; it’s a struggle just getting to the bar, fortunately it’s a friendly crowd tonight so access isn’t a problem (I suppose there is one benefit to being on crutches). Whilst Immi’s alone on stage playing ‘First Train Home’, I look around and take in the surroundings. The lighting and stripped bare skeletal tree back drop, give the room a mystical wintery feeling. It feels like I’m inside a densely packed hot, humid arctic cave looking out towards the opening and seeing a Post Punk Fairy Princess performing.
During one of the many breaks between tracks, Immi stops and gives a running guide to the stage set up. Pointing out the tiny microphones on her wrists and what they’re for and the various instruments she has around her. Apart from her “gorgeous clear piano” I couldn’t even begin to explain what most of the sound producing things are. Is a Chrome Bird Cage, played with a bow, an instrument? One thing that does strike me, is how endearing she is; even making the effort to move things around the stage, so she and the audience gain an improved view of each other. When Immi talks, it’s as though she’s talking to a room of friends that she’s comfortable with; in no way is it overconfidence, she’s just so at ease as a friendly public speaker. For what it’s worth, I believe Immi deserves at the very least a spoken word tour, if not her own sitcom. She’s a naturally charismatic very witty person and one, everyone in the crowd, enjoys listening to.
Part way through ‘Beneath Sheets’ the stage door opens and one at a time out walks Chris, Karl and Tim and is personally introduced by Immi. Immediately they settle down and start playing their respective instruments; drums and percussion, guitar, synth and notebook. ‘Headlock’ when played as a foursome brings a whole new dynamic to the music, as the intensity of the volume is increased nothing of the highly complex nature of the sounds are lost. There are bands that you should see for who they are, they might be your favorite group, maybe an assembled super group or someone you’d always regret missing. Then there are a very small select few that should be seen whether you like the music or not. It doesn’t always need to be about the music. I can’t quite put my finger on it but there’s an indescribable personal feeling that only some musicians deliver at a gig, and Imogen Heap is deservedly on that prestigious list. None of the songs are what you would describe as powerful, but each is beautiful in their own unique delivery. On some songs she’s fully involved in playing the piano or whatever instrument she maybe playing at the time. Other songs are recited as though she’s acting out a poem. There are times when the stage act seemed wholly unrehearsed but this all adds to the enchanted theme of the evening. At times there seems to be lots of adlibbing and yet when the songs are played out everything comes together perfectly.
Vocally, Immi’s voice is impressive in its broad range. Moving between breathy highs and a ghostly deep pitch. It’s then somewhat surprising to hear all the band has suffered from some sort of cold and tonight it’s Immi’s turn. But if she doesn’t miss a note then it’s because she’s brilliant!
I’m having trouble thinking of any significant highlights. I can’t say whether certain elements were highlights but pushed into a corner and forced into writing something, I found ‘Bad Body Double’ memorable in that it was performed as a Dub version and featured beat boxing. The introductory story accompanying ‘Aha!’ featuring the difficulties of cooking for vegans and chocolate digestives. An improvised version of ‘Canvas’ lead by Daisy on the Cello accompanied by the rest of the band all playing free-form – something they only play when the groove takes them. Finally, the last song said with a knowing wink has Immi forgetting the opening words completely and having to ask the front row for help with ‘Tidal’. Before strapping on the Keytar, donning a pair of black shades and rocking out like an 80’s hair-metal pin up!
The encore brings Immi back on stage alone. Starting with the mesmerizing ‘Hide and Seek’ the finale then turns into a sing along with Immi session. ‘Just for Now’ and ‘The Moment I Said It’ feature Immi and the 300+ piece Midlands mixed choir. Her voice did start to break just before the encore, it was most noticeable on ‘Hide and Seek’ where she didn’t even attempt some of the high notes. It didn’t detract from the fact she was brilliant though.
If you were at the O2 Academy on the early evening hours of Valentine’s Eve you would have only been there to see two Grammy winning solo female artists. One of these artists puts on a three bus, two truck stage show, which begs the question “Does it make for a good gig?” I can’t honestly answer that as I, along with the ‘knowing’ crowd of Academy 2 looked down on all of those in Academy 1 appreciative of the fact that the obvious choice isn’t always the best option and the preferred path is usually least trodden.
First Train Home
Wait It Out
Bad Body Double
Hide and Seek
Just for Now
The Moment I Said It
Review Lee Hathaway
Photos Katja Ogrin