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
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
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.