12 Jun 2009: Hiro Ballroom New York
An Ida Maria performance is truly one of the most spectacular things to see in modern show going, because it has the potential to be double-sided. The given is that Ida Maria’s music is unconventional but catchy, vocals uncontrolled yet perfectly on key, and her attire stylish but movable. But to watch a singer master a performance at a dive bar earlier this year AND then a swank Manhattan venue six months later? This is a quality not often talked about in reviews.
When discussing a singer/songwriter/performer’s credibility, people often touch upon vocal range, creativity in general, connection to the audience, and energy. What we do forget to think about is: Can the artist pull off just as solid a performance in a small divey venue as they can in an uptown establishment? Norwegian pop singer Ida Maria, I’m proud to say, can do both. In smaller, downtown venues, where the beer and whiskey slicks the floor, Ida Maria has torn through live sets, with enough energy to kick-start a dead motor. She’s ended up with makeup smearing her face, her body writhing on the floor, her voice cracking from the shrieks. And no, Ida Maria is not in fact, a “rock star,” into metal, or otherwise insane. She’s a pop singer happy to get her hands dirty.
The Hiro Ballroom is a much shinier joint than the Lower East Side’s Mercury Lounge where I saw the singer in January of this year. After seeing Ida Maria nearly lose her voice entirely at the downtown venue, it was a treat to see how she handled a show in Chelsea’s more up-market neighborhood where the audience’s age ran about 10 years older and the venue’s décor much more expensive to maintain.
Ida Maria did a good job keeping her audience waiting, but when she finally arrived on stage, she looked cheerful, donning jeans, a black and gold top, and high tops. The band broke into “Morning Light”, one of the jauntier tracks off of Fortress Round My Heart. Ida Maria then proceeded to sing each song from her debut album (there aren’t many), and one has to wonder if she ever gets tired of singing the same songs over and over. If she does, she would never show it. Ida Maria sang chantable tunes like “Oh My God”, “Stella”, “Louie”, and “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” with reckless abandon, churning out just enough of her insatiable energy throughout each track. During “Naked,” the entire crowd joined in, chanting back at her “I like you so much better when you’re naked! / I like me so much better when you’re naked!” Though Ida Maria’s voice held like a trophy, her backup singers sounded a little less winning. Luckily, no one usually cares too much about the backup singers, but for Ida Maria’s particular music, strong male vocals are necessary to even her out.
Throughout the set, Ida Maria looked like a bomb that was ticking quickly. She grinned coyly down at the audience, her wide (and quite remarkable eyes) flashing mischievously. She took every available opportunity to sexily shimmy her shoulders. It is also worth mentioning that Ida Maria can do this with a guitar around her neck. Every so often, she would pause between songs to explain what the next was about, (most were about love, and the various states of it).
By the end of the set, which was not very long, Ida Maria did not look as disheveled as she had at the end of her Mercury Lounge show. Her hair had stayed in place, and her makeup was not running. There was no water or beer splashed on the audience or in her hair. Ida Maria had, however, pulled off an ever so slightly less insane and riotous performance (given the location), but still managed to get everyone in the audience dancing and screaming “OH MY GOD!” back at her, which was easily the most furious cut on the list. There aren’t many artists out there able to regulate their vigor on stage. Ida Maria, on the other hand, can flat-out lose her mind (and sometimes, her clothes), yelping “OH MY GOD!” during a show, and other times, provide just as powerful a performance without doing these things. It seem as though Ida Maria finds different ways to supplement the crazy.