- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Watching British songstress Imogen Heap perform — as she did Monday night at the 9:30 Club — is like watching the creative process unfold.

The artist wrote, produced and did “everything in between” on her latest solo album, 2005’s “Speak for Yourself,” and she stays true to this do-it-yourself form in concert, painstakingly re-creating all of her songs’ sonic layers live — from her own harmonies to the keyboard and percussion loops.

She makes mistakes at times and occasionally has to redo certain elements, but rather than taking away from her craft, the fragile musical home she builds each night reflects a careful methodology that underscores her artistry and ambition. Her vulnerability also adds a human element seldom seen in today’s sea of overproduced pop music.

It all begins in her makeshift studio: the stage. Hers was festooned with all manner of high-tech gadgetry and keyboards, some housed under a formidable piece of clear acrylic resembling the lid of a grand piano.

Miss Heap entered the toy-filled room clad in an oh-so-feminine rose-hued bustier and matching crinolined skirt, her hair teased wildly and pinned atop her head under a mohawk of pink feathers. (Indeed, she looked the part of the artist.) She went straight to work — or perhaps to play.

Skipping like a stone from one instrument to the next, she bounced about the stage while singing and tinkering, by turns producing simple piano-driven ballads and complex electronic pop.

Miss Heap’s unique voice, capable of Bjork-like register changes and similarly marked by various quirks, remained as constant as a rippling ocean as band members ebbed and flowed onstage like tides. She was often accompanied by her two talented opening acts, singer-songwriter Levi Weaver and beat-boxer Kid Beyond, who were woven into the show’s fabric.

Sometimes, the musician explained what she was doing: “I play the keyboard and sing into the mike, then play the chorus [of me’s] with my fingers.” Other times she admitted that she had muffed up something. “Oops. I forgot to turn that on, so we’ve got to do it again,” she mumbled before launching into “Headlock,” the first track off “Speak for Yourself.” Mostly, however, she got it right, smoothly programming her way through every last tune on her latest album, plus a few added bonuses — such as “Let Go,” the cut that introduced her to most of her current U.S. fan base.

Miss Heap recorded the track in 2002 as a side project called Frou Frou with superproducer Guy Sigsworth and gained worldwide acclaim when the song appeared on the “Garden State” soundtrack.

It may have been a crowd favorite, along with her haunting, vocoded ditty “Hide and Seek,” but there were better-executed tunes in her set — including the B-side “Speeding Cars” and the mosh-inciting “Daylight Robbery.” Another highlight was the sweet slow song “Come Here Boy,” from her 1998 solo debut, “I Megaphone,” a recording that had gone out of print and was rereleased just this week.

After Monday night’s impressive exhibition, the disc isn’t likely to fall into obscurity again.

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