Stardom just around corner for Heap  

December 20, 2006


British singer, songwriter, keyboardist and electronic sorceress Imogen Heap hasn't gotten any radio play in Chicago, and though her music has been featured in the background of popular TV shows such as "The O.C." and "CSI," she hasn't gotten any significant love from MTV or the mainstream music press.

Despite this lack of hype, the 29-year-old musician is building an ever-growing following on the strength of the oldest currency in show business: hugely positive word of mouth. And a week after riding that buzz to a Grammy nomination for best new artist, she played to a packed crowd at the Riviera Theatre Tuesday night, basking in the love of fans who admire her work with the short-lived duo Frou Frou and who adore "Speak for Yourself," the 2005 solo album that was almost never released because of label woes.

After kicking things off with a Middle Eastern chant on a wireless headset mike from the balcony, Heap took her place onstage behind an array of digital gear fancifully housed in a massive clear plastic case shaped like a grand piano. It was an apt metaphor for her organic, down-to-earth approach to cutting-edge technology, and she cheerfully explained each gadget and gizmo to the fans.

"This is my electronic parrot . . . parrot . . . parrot," she said through her echo machine. "And this is my choir," her voice multiplied and spread over eight octaves by a harmonizer.

Joking with the crowd in between delivering her entrancing and melodic dreamscapes, Heap talked like Emma Thompson, sang like Kate Bush, played the keyboards like the virtuosic Tori Amos and looked like the young Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, dressed in a poofy skirt, fluffy pink boa and feathery hairpiece while working as a clerk at the coolest funky-chic thrift store in town.

On previous visits, playing much smaller venues, the artist performed as a one-woman show. On this tour, she was not only accompanied by an upright bassist/French horn player and a percussionist/drummer, she handpicked the opening acts, then invited them to guest with her as well at different points throughout her generous set.

For his part, Levi Weaver, a postmodern folkie from Dallas, showed plenty of promise on his own and added some cool atmospheric guitar to Heap's set. During his opening turn, San Francisco's Kid Beyond got old fast with his technologically enhanced human beatbox novelty act, but he couldn't detract from the headliner.

With an already considerable arsenal of memorable songs and charismatic stage presence to spare, Heap is well on her way to stardom --regardless of whether you've heard of her or not.