Sparkling songbird lights up the stage

Sara Veal

It may have been five years in the making, but Imogen Heap, who dazzled the crowds at the Jakarta’s Kartika Expo Center, Balai Kartini, on Wednesday, March 31, proved she was worth waiting for.

The British multiple Grammy nominee took to the stage for two hours, with seemingly limitless energy, wit and stage presence, and an 18-song set that spanned her three solo albums.

“Until about two months ago, I didn’t know you were all into my music,” said Heap, who included Jakarta as the penultimate stop on the world tour for her latest album, Ellipse, following floods of Twitter messages from Indonesian fans.

Opening acts Back Ted N-Ted, aka Ryan Breen from Arizona, and Heap’s fellow Brit Tim Exile got the crowds going before later joining Heap on stage, mainly on guitar and keyboards, respectively, along with New Yorker Chris Vatalaro on drums and bass vocalizer.

Dance pop rocker Back Ted N-Ted especially impressed with his closing song, the anthemic “War is Over”, while Tim Exile, striking in a bright red jacket, created new music right before the audience’s eyes and transformed responsive members into a musical instrument, with the help of a refitted joystick.

After keeping her revved-up fans waiting just a little longer, Heap strolled on to the stage to wild applause, launching into the rousing “First Train Home”, Ellipse’s first single, using a glass of water as musical accompaniment.

The artist’s floaty black dress, accented with feathery epaulettes, accessorized with a garland of fresh flowers and paired with sparkling shoes, completed the fairy-glade setting, which comprised a twinkling cut-out tree centerpiece, a white, plastic electronic grand piano, an array of eye-catching instruments, and a rainbow of rich lighting to reflect changing moods and tunes.

Heap was as much enthusiastic teacher as effervescent performer, explaining about the background of each song, and demonstrating how each of her unusual instruments worked, including a set of “water chords” that provided “instant horror music” and a chirping toy bird, who was “patiently” waiting for “one particular moment”.

The wistful Wait it Out, had been written while in Hawaii, while the tinkling, sublime “Between the Sheets”, was “inspired by lying next to a certain nice man” and enjoying being in the moment rather than “thinking about the future or past”.

“Do you love me?” she asked, after entertaining with oldie but goodie “Headlock” and the funky “Bad Body Double”, to predictable affirmation.

“I’m glad, be really bad if you hated me. I’d definitely be in the wrong place.”

Heap then shared a song that she said had taken “a lot of courage” and “a long time to write”, the mesmerizing “Speeding Cars”, about the pain of growing up and making mistakes.

Next she showed off her budding Indonesian skills, before bringing the birds from her local park to Balai Kartini, through a shadowy projection of flocking birds and the sample of their birdsong on “Little Bird”, adding up to a captivating audio-visual experience.

Having dazed with the display, Heap shook things up by treating fans to the song that had likely first brought her to their attention, the intoxicating “Let Go”, from her days in duo Frou Frou, which had fans chiming in happily.

Following reminisces about that former collaboration, it was time for a fresh one, as she brought cellist Rachman Noor on to the stage, a young Indonesian man who had won the chance to play by Heap’s side following online auditions that she arranges before each gig.

Rachman helped to amp up the drama on “Aha!”, a song Heap wrote after being irritated by a picky eater and stayed on to jam on the improvised beginning to the haunting, almost primal “Canvas”, which incorporated sampled sounds of a crackling bonfire and visuals to match.

After Rachman took a bow, Heap showed off another novel instrument, a “plastic snake” or “whirly” that emitted an ethereal sound when spun in the air above her head, which she used for “The Walk”.

The dimmed stage gave Heap the chance to see the audience for the first time, so, gleefully turning the tables on Blackberry addicts, she pulled out her mobile phone and videoed the crowd, saying “I’m going to show my friends and they’re going to say, ‘Shut up!’”

For the otherworldly “Swoon”, Vatalaro emerged from behind his drumkit and began to make music using a saw, a performance that delighted Heap and led to her tossing her garland of flowers into the audience, before singing the soaring, slightly melancholic “2-1”.

Signalling the night was sadly nearing its end, Heap revived an old favorite, the upbeat “Goodnight and Go”, eliciting a rapturous response.

Then it was time for the “first” goodbye, in the tradition of all great music concerts.
“For the moment, this is the ‘last song’,” Heap said knowingly, making quotation marks with both hands, before performing a fresh version of Tidal, her “favorite song to sing”.

Taking a bow, Heap and all her merry men departed the stage together. This time, the songbird did not keep the crowd waiting, quickly returning solo to give her fans the song they had been longing for, Hide and Seek, which she recruited the audience to help her with.

She continued to use the audience as the music for “Just for Now”, and was thrilled by the warm cooperation, saying the next audience would have the present one to thank for her return.

“I’m going to end on one this last song, I’ve tried other songs, but nothing works as well as this one. Thank you all for a special night. My one regret is that I didn’t have any time to see your wonderful country, but I will come back and see it,” she promised, before ending with “The Moment I Said It”, a suitably thoughtful finale to an exhilarating, involving musical adventure.

After the show, Heap fittingly paid final tribute for the night through Twitter, Tweeting “Was a great gig! We all had the best time!! Yay to those in the audience!”

Those lucky enough to attend last night also took to Twitter with their thoughts.

Anastasha Lovinna (@misstashalov) wrote, “All @imogenheap songs kept running in my head. I am soo watching her show again. Once is not enough! Please come back to Jakarta soon Immy”.

The evening’s main attraction told The Jakarta Post that she would be back “within a year”. Imogen Heap, Indonesia eagerly awaits your return.


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