It’s obvious that former Frou Frou vocalist Imogen Heap sees herself as a singer in the vein of Tori Amos or Kate Bush, but her show Tuesday at the El Rey only proved how short she falls of her influences. The problem isn’t her voice or music, both of which have their pleasures, but the fact that her one-woman perf never turned into anything more than a collection of quirks.
Taking the stage dressed in a doublet over a tattered sleeved shirt, her thick hair piled on her head and studded with flower buds, she looks like a refugee from a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” And when she takes the aud on a breathy, motor-mouthed tour of her keyboards, effects boxes and sequencers, she comes off as a slightly batty children’s show hostess. If nothing else, Imogen Heap is a performer deeply committed to her eccentricities.
That commitment doesn’t seem to extend into the world around her. “Speak for Yourself,” (RCA/Megaphonic) her new album, has the airless quality of something recorded alone at home; the solo concert setting does little to ease her solipsism.
Her mannered vocals –processed swoops, trills and moans — and the music’s electronic maelstrom draw you into Heap’s highly dramatic world. In half-heard phrases, the lyrics intrigue: “Excess is the new moderation,” “It’s not safe in here,” “This time I think it could be triangulated.” But they never coalesce into anything more than random moods. Like teen soaps such as “The OC” that have used Heap’s music, the emotions are both overheated and underbaked.
There were moments when the music cohered, and ironically it was when Heap was at her most conventionally singer-songwriter and sitting at the grand piano. A version of Frou Frou’s “Let Go” was subtly haunting, a few low synthesizer lines running just below her vocal like an ominous wind. And “Can’t Take It In,” (heard on “The Chronicles of Narnia” soundtrack), performed with opening act Zoe Keating, built a lovely layered crescendo.