Ida Maria's songs are little vignettes and she's a total method actor. On songs like "Louie" and "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," she's brimming with infectious joy; but with "Drive Away My Heart" and "Stella" she's accessing some dark memories and ripping her guts out on stage for all to see.. And on "Queen of the World" it's joyously drunken until things get a little too soused and the melancholy sets in. But whichever mood the song's in she lives it. By the end of her 30-minute set each night she was soaking wet (via a water bottle), lipstick-smeared and emotionally drained. The sets may seem short on paper, but we were joking after the Mercury Lounge show that if she did any more she might die. You know, for her art.
Last time Ida played NYC, during CMJ 2007, there was a crowd of about 15 but that was before she'd officially released anything. This time, with her debut Fortress Round My Heart already a hit in the UK, both shows were way sold out -- I don't think I'd seen Mercury Lounge that packed since the Arctic Monkeys. This was probably, technically, the better show of the two. The crowd was amped, and Ida wore a gold flapper dress and burned like a sparkler until dousing herself with water for the big "Oh My God" finale and everybody I talked to left kind of blown away. "Stella" was especially great.
For the Union Hall show, she wore flannel and corduroy which suits her better, and she was just as intense but her voice was totally shot, singing at least an octave lower than the night before and leaving a lot of the singing (especially the choruses) to the guitarist and bassist of her pro backing band. She also broke a string two songs in and didn't have a second guitar at the ready so she went the total lead singer route for the rest of the show, which isn't a bad thing. The string incident also gave us an extra song -- a solo performance of b-side "Going to Hell." Union Hall has an intimacy that Mercury doesn't so there was definitely more of a "connection" with the audience which made up for some of the other shortcomings.
MP3: Ida Maria - Going to hell (demo)
I also shot video of "Queen of the World":
I left my camera's memory card at home for the Mercury Lounge show but you can see photos and read reviews at Brooklyn Vegan, Music Snobbery, and the NY Times. Ida's coming back to the States for SXSW which will hopefully include a tour that hits more than just NYC and LA. It should give her time to rest up her voice too so when she's back in March she'll hit us with full force -- which might be more than we're ready for.