Sunday, November 7, 2010

Imogen Heap @ The Royal Albert Hall

Contrary to what you'd might deduce from reading my blog, I actually listen to a lot of music other than classical and on Friday, as a treat to myself, after celebrating a little personal triumph, I bought a ticket to see Imogen Heap perform at The Royal Albert Hall. 

If there was a soundtrack to my life, Imogen Heap would certainly be on it - it's not surprising, however, as she's a Grammy-winning artist who has appeared on numerous soundtracks, including the ever-popular Garden State.  Something about her music really lends itself to that extremely emotive, illustrative quality that is indicative of motion picture soundtracks.

Quite aptly, she opened the first half of her show conducting a full symphony orchestra and choir who performed an original score (complete with movements!) against the backdrop of a series of Planet Earth-esque nature scenes with titles such as "Beauty" and "Grandeur".  For anyone else, this would be an eye-rolling, pretentious act, but because it was Imogen Heap, it was entirely acceptable and endearing.  And it was clear from this orchestration that Imogen knows exactly what she is doing: the textures, layers and transparency with which the music soared accompanied the film perfectly.  Plus, I find myself invariably drawn to musicians who are classically trained - especially those who are as innovative as Imogen, because I'm consistently amazed by their gift in composing.  Classically trained musicians have an innate understanding of music that artists without formal training lack (I know that's controversial, but it's my opinion).

Innovation is one of Imogen's greatest skills; her work with ambient sounds and recordings bring to mind The Books and you never quite know what kind of instrument she'll use next.  The stage resembles a mad scientist's lab, with bells and a triangle hanging from the beautifully carved white tree in the centre, glasses half filled with water to make the familiar sounds you made as a child bored at a grown-up's restaurant that she's cleverly incorporated into the beginning of "First Train Home", keyboards, synthesizers and a multitude of other instruments you can't even see.

It's not difficult to understand why Imogen has won so many awards and garnered the affections of so many music fans.  She gives a lot.  What I mean by "giving" is this: for, in a venue as grand and immense as the Royal Albert Hall, she has the uncanny ability to make you feel like you're the only person in her company and, in fact, quite possibly chilling out in her living room.  She has the habit of chatting to her audience - rapidly digressing and easily distracted, which is at once disarming and also incredibly charming.  And if that doesn't win you over, there's the option on her website to vote, yes vote, for your favorite songs to appear on her set list because, as she explained, "people should hear what they wanted to come and hear."  Isn't that so ... thoughtful?  "I had no idea this song was so popular," she said in her adorable, bumbling way before launching into "Say Goodnight And Go" (one of my favorites).  "I never played it and then it ended up in the top three of the poll almost every time and I thought, 'Oh no!  I'd better play it."  So. Lovely.

But with the loveliness is also an honesty and firmness that is really very refreshing.  Explaining why she doesn't believe in encores, she said, "These are the last two songs that I'm doing with the band and then I'll do a couple more on my own.  I can't stand it when someone goes off and then you know they're coming back on, and you have to clap and wait and I'm just not going to do any of that."

Notable highlights of the evening included "Let Go", (of course) a heart-stopping rendition of "Hide and Seek" as her final song and "Canvas", from her new album, Ellipse, which had a sample of the crackling bonfire she invited her family over to share in.  I love how there's no caginess or cryptic messages in Imogen's music - she's very happy to explain exactly where she was when she wrote a piece of music, what was going through her mind, what the song means and most importantly, what the song means to her.  In that sense, she's extremely generous.  I love her.

If you've not heard Imogen's new album or had the chance to see her live this year, check out the video below of one of my favorite songs off of Ellipse, 'First Train Home':

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