REVIEW: IMOGENÉ, The Improvised Pop Concert, Vault Festival

We are blessed and we are welcome. Imogené, an international pop sensation who flew in from Tokyo – by helicopter – specifically for this run of performances, the intimate space of the Vault’s Crypt isn’t big enough. A hollowed-out volcano wouldn’t be big enough for Imogené. She’s a star.

There are two ways of reviewing this performance. One is to suspect that Imogené is the creation of Imogen Palmer, a superb queer clown who founded Bristol’s The Delight Collective, and is singing made up songs based on audience suggestions ably accompanied by the improvised musical stylings of Jack Orinoco Morrison.

Two is to accept Imogené is a genuine multi-million selling artist from France / Outer Space / Milton Keynés, who needs our help to come up with new tunes for an imminent Mark Ronson collaboration.

I choose the latter. Imogené inhabits her character so completely that looking behind the curtain seems wrong, somehow.

And so, rightly, we are compelled to look away for the diva’s emergence. We open our eyes and she is there, in us already, metaphorically speaking. Jacqués, her long-suffering musical accompaniment, is waving his bum in my face.

Imogené writhes. She swoops, she drops, she flicks, and she leans. She pushes herself along the floor and asks the audience for assistance with her many costume changes. We are putty in her hands, as she turns our lives into soaring, jerking, glorious pop songs, from the Avril Lavigne pop punk of poetry and unrequited love, to the epic balladry created from one audience member’s desire for more interesting clothes.

A mixture of Björk, Peaches, Mariah Carey, Martha and / or The Muffins, Lady Gaga, and half a ton of glitter, Imogené reaches her peak during a song that could either be about sex or warmed bread. Maybe one is a euphemism for the other? Either way, spread it like butter and touch her like toast, baby. 

A special mention, also, to Jacqués on keys, who is a brilliant foil of grunts, deadpan glances, and Dr John-esque New Orleans moans. If Imogené is the moon, then Jacqués is down there on earth on a hot hot night, howling up into the sky.

I loved Palmer’s (don’t look behind the curtain, darling!) mastery of merging audience and performance to form one collaborative and mutually enriching space, while also teaching subtle lessons about consent, the bullshit of the patriarchy, the reclamation of our own physical and mental geography, and the dangers of isolation.

By the time we were all holding hands, with the poet stranger to my left briefly a stranger no more, the slightly chilly room underneath some railway arches in Waterloo was the warmest, most inclusive space in London.

We are left with one final ludicrous costume change and the official song for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, which is set to be a riot of rainbow flags, queer anthems, and maybe some men kicking a football about or whatever.

Don’t bet against it, With Imogené, everything is possible.


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