The flamboyant singer-songwriter brings some drama to the Empire Music Hall
In recent years, the pop music industry has been slowly moving away from girl and boy bands to embrace the more glamorous theatrical flair of acts such as Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse, Northern Ireland’s own Duke Special and others who have developed their own pop personas. The consistently original and flamboyant Imogen Heap has been something of a trail blazer in this respect.
The Empire has hosted many acts in its time, and as one of the last genuine music halls in Belfast it certainly lives up to its reputation as a venue for the dramatic. The line up tonight includes two warm up acts, both members of Heap's group.
Up first is English guitarist and songwriter Ben Christophers, whose music shares some of Heap’s own characteristics. Incorporating electronic and acoustic loops, his minimalist folk style sets up the night well, reminiscent of a quirky mix between Philip Glass and Simon and Garfunkel.
Next is Geese, a string duet of violin and viola showcasing the talents of Emma Smith and Vincent Sipprell. Again, their set list incorporates some tech using recorded and pre-recorded loops to build up a sequence of rhythmic and melodic patterns. To use a loop box and effects seems to be the order of the day at present, particularly with solo acoustic performers. If done well it can be an exciting journey of discovery for an audience, and Geese deliver on this front.
Heap’s own performance is like a candy box of sonic sweeties. From a visual point of view, Heap uses everything at her disposal, including some rather trippy lighting effects projected onto the band as an extension of her performance. Her ensemble is also pretty neat, with a transparent glass baby grand piano taking up most of the stage, along with a drum kit, high-hats, tom-toms, tam tam, a variety of keyboards, guitars, effects pedals, and even a glockenspiel… the only thing missing is the proverbial kitchen sink, which she would no doubt have made use of had there been one readily available.
Her actual set list was decided prior to the gig. Through her own website, audiences were able to vote for the songs they most wanted to hear and in that sense the gig is very personal to this Belfast audience. But for all the instruments and technology used, it's the songs that count. Heap introduces each one, giving context. On occasion the technology does let her down, but these are minor blips in an otherwise eccentric and dramatic night of experimental pop.