Imogen Heap - Manchester Academy
Imogen Heap comes on, glass of water in hand. Not, you understand, to steady her first-night nerves. No, she's going to play it. As she moves her fingers around the rim, it becomes immediately apparent that none of the technology surrounding her is about to work.
Not the best start to a tour, but Heap makes the most of it, and turns the rebooting time into an impromptu Q&A, answering questions on everything from her recent Grammy win ("They take it back off you and post it to you. I'll bring it next time.") to her hair. She also uses the time for a brief show and tell session, showing us how the magic is (hopefully) going to work, asking the audience to guess what the two black pads on her wrists are - turns out that they're microphones - and showing us various unusual instruments she'll be sampling later.
So it's with a sense of relief for both audience and perfomer that she returns after a brief moment offstage, the glass is successfully sampled and 'First Train Home' kicks in.
Heap performs solo for a few numbers, then is joined by her band for 'Headlock'. At first they threaten to overwhelm the song, but the mix soon settles down. A good thing too, because Imogen's crystal clear voice (when it's not being digitally manipulated) is the star attraction, despite all the gadgetry on display. Never is this more evident than on the song that she describes as the "token piano song at the end of the record", 'Half Life', performed technology free, alone on the piano.
The times when the technology and music work together are when the show is at its best, though. At one point during 'The Walk', she literally gets up and dances to her own beat, the music sampled, her voice mutated by a vocoder.
This review can't pass by without a mention of how visual this show is. While Heap could easily rely on the songs to make a statement, it's clear that a lot of time has been invested in the staging of the show, from the custom made perspex piano, complete with a computer in the lid, to the elaborate back projections.
The crowd remain enthusiastic throughout, particularly when she performs 'Speeding Cars' (as featured in The OC), making a noise of such excitement that she stops to compliment them on a "good squeal".
While things may not have begun well for Imogen, on this showing, those attending the rest of the tour are in for a treat.
All photographs copyright Mike Gray - No Usage Without Permission.