There are musicians, and then there is Imogen Heap: her concert Monday at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue featured cute costumes, an intricate set and bizarre instruments used to create the English singer-songwriter’s signature blend of pop and electronica.
Heap mostly performed songs from her latest effort, “Ellipse,” along with a few older favorites like “Hide and Seek.” During each song, she carefully crafted the background music one instrument at a time by recording herself on microphones attached to her arms. She began the song “First Train Home” by playing the rim of a wine glass and using a plastic pipe, which she’d told the audience she’d had since she was 4 years old.
Heap proved her reputation as a vibrant performer, rarely standing still throughout the entire show. She began the concert by coming through the aisles to the stage, dressed in a sequined tank top, ballerina skirt and silk jacket. While singing the song “Bad Body Double,” she jerked around the stage and waved her hands in the air.
Heap also included the audience in the show, splitting them into three-part harmony during “Just for Now,” a track off of her 2005 album, “Speak for Yourself.” She even stopped one song midway to clear her throat, which was met with laughter and applause.
“I’ve got a cute voice, haven’t I?” Heap asked the crowd.
At each stop in her tour, Heap held auditions for cello players in an effort to involve local musicians in her concerts. During the last few songs of her set, the chosen D.C. cellist joined Heap onstage.
The detailed stage design accompanied Heap’s quirky songs; it included a painted wood cutout of a tree strung with lights and various trinkets she had collected throughout the tour. A host of unusual instruments also sat beneath the tree, including Heap’s plastic piano, which was lined with white fur.
Even the creation of the album “Ellipse” was unconventional. Heap spent eight months recording the tracks in the Essex, England home in which she was raised. After buying the house from her parents a few years ago, she turned the same room she used to use as a playroom into a professional recording studio.
The two opening acts, Back Ted N-Ted and Tim Exile, matched the headliner’s indie sound. Back Ted N-Ted sounded like a male, guitar-wielding version of Heap. His protest song, “War Zone,” was a duet between artist and audience, with the crowd chanting “the war is over” while he played his guitar over a techno beat.
“The idea behind this is that if enough of us sing this song, it might actually happen,” he said with a cheeky smile.
Tim Exile’s song “Listening Tree” involved various instruments played over a looped jungle beat. The artist sang softly as he walked around the audience and danced with crowd members.
Heap, who introduced Exile to the crowd, praised the singer, saying that she “[hoped] to get some genius into my brain just by standing next to him.”
Senior Colleen Michael, who was in the audience, said the concert was an indescribable, but an enjoyable experience.
“I’m not really sure what that was, but I liked it,” she said.