Imogen Heap at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue

03Dec09

I went to the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue this week for the first time to see an Imogen Heap concert, also for the first time.

I didn’t know that a beautiful site like the Synagogue existed in such an improbable location between Wok and Roll Restaurant and the Chinatown bus depot, only a block from the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro.  From the outside it does not appear to be a music venue.  I’m curious whether any other holy sites in DC or elsewhere also host public performances.


It was one of the most comfortable and intimate music venues that I have ever been to.   The seats are the wood-backed padded pews of a place of worship and seating capacity is less than 450 people.  Seating is General Admission and I arrived 20 minutes after doors opened to find open pews only in the side balconies.  The stage is quite small and limits distractions from the music such as dancing and stage sets.  Imogen walked through the audience to reach the stage because I don’t think there is a rear entrance.  The venue is lit by electric candelabras and chandeliers, further adding to the cozy feel.  There is not a concession stand or bar, so no food or beverages are permitted.


I became a fan of the musician when I first discovered the band Frou Frou, which gained recognition because of the song “Let Go” on the Garden State movie soundtrack.  I later learned that Imogen was the lead singer of that group and did some research into her solo albums.  She performed one of my favorites, Just For Now, without any instrumental accompaniments and instructed the entire audience to sing along with her.  The effect of her direction was a orchestrated fading in and out of sound, and it highlighted her strong vocal talent.

Ticket prices were reasonable at $25 each excluding the standard 40% Ticketmaster tariff.

Imogen is practically a one-woman show: she plays the piano; constructs instruments from unlikely objects such as a pastry brush, saw, and plastic cord; manages the sound board; and leads with her ethereal vocals.  The show opened with her dipping a finger into a water-filled crystal wine glass and rubbing it along the rim, then repeating and adding to that one sound.  She used a technique that I’ve never seen before of taping microphones to her wrists to capture all of the sounds created and then loop them on a sound board.  It’s fascinating to see how music produced by layers of improbable sounds comes together.  This is probably why I enjoy seeing DC-based Thievery Corporation- another group that layers sounds – perform live.

In order to personally interact with every city on the tour schedule, she held web auditions for a cellist to accompany a couple of her songs.  The cellist for this performance lived about 20 minutes away.  This is great approach to personally connect with the audience base, even though I lack all musical talent.

Imogen explained how earlier in the day she toured the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center with one of her DC friends and that the visit inspired her set list.  She said, “We visited NASA today, how cool is that?  Sort of a spacey place, so it will be a spacey set tonight.”

Imogen Heap originates from the UK and it shows.  British English is ostensibly the same as American English, except for some curious spelling customs, but I had such difficulty understanding her comments in between songs.  It didn’t help that she had an idiosyncratic tendency to mumble and talk to herself about what she was or wasn’t doing.  She has a bubbly, eccentric personality, evidenced by her excited rants and childlike stage outfit of a ballet tutu and birds nest hair piece.  While I really like her music overall, the individual songs blend together and I can’t identify songs by name.  Perhaps Imogen feels the same way because she asked what the next song was on her set list and started a song with the wrong lyrics and admitted to the error more than once.

Sixth & I Historic Synagogue has a full calendar of events, from music performances to lectures.  Actress Mayim Bialik from the TV show Blossom will be discussing Jewish women and Hollywood stardom on December 7th.  Imogen Heap returns to DC in April next year.

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6 Responses to “Imogen Heap at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue”

  1. 1 mg

    What’s funny is philly’s place for alt music is a Unitarian church. I wonder if NY’s place is a Catholic church and Boston’s place is a mosque.

    • A concert in a mosque would be interesting – I’m going to look into that next time I’m in Boston. I wonder what genre of music is performed in a Scientology church??

  2. Great write-up! Check out another review at http://www.anoceanofnoise.com. I loved what you said about Sixth and I. Concerning other hidden gems there is another religious space that offers itself as a cool music venue. It’s in Mt. Pleasant. I have never been but have heard rumors. Can anyone confirm or deny?

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