Gazing at little known Scandinavian pop starlets in concert is a little like watching a child being born (albeit a slightly crazy, drunkenly smeared child, in the case of Ms. Ida Maria). Not to gross any readers out, and not that I have ever literally watched anything being birthed, but it is generally understood in the music community that foreign pop imports are a thousand times more recognizable across the pond for about one to two years—the incubation period—before their buzz begins to vibrate up against the United States. Once an adequate number of coastal city hipsters catch on to the growing overseas sensation, it is only a matter of time before the metaphorical pregnancy is over, and a worldwide pop star is born. Thus was the scene at Norwegian indie punk ‘n’ roller Ida Maria’s sold out appearance at Manhattan’s Mercury Lounge.
While Ida Maria’s debut album, Fortress Round My Heart, will be released in the US this May, the record has been out nearly two years in the UK. In this time she’s gained a rep for rolling ‘round the stage in a rock induced fury, and the murmurings about Ida Maria’s live performance had evidently preceded tonight’s show. The aura before the show felt tense with anticipation and glee as the floor filled with fans, most forgetting to remove their jackets, as the memory of far below freezing temperatures outside stayed fresh. In no time, Ida Maria walked calmly out, following her band mates, and plugged her guitar in without a word. The crowd kept jabbering. After all, this is New York. If you want attention, you have to earn it first.
15 Jan 2009: Mercury Lounge New York, NY
Perhaps the most jarring aspect to Ida’s entrance was that she had obviously made an effort to glam up for the show, not something atypical for a lady onstage, but something a tad far removed for the gritty growling and almost tomboyish presence of Ida Maria. She attractively donned a little gold dress, lacy tights, and red painted lips, yet there was still something out of place about Ida’s appearance. Her hair contained one of those ponytail bumps you get when you wear your hair up for half the day and take it down at night and she wore nondescript flats that didn’t quite match the rest of her sexy attire. Upon starting the show, it immediately became evident that Ida didn’t quite give a damn about anything she had on, and began to riff and roar through the first track “In the Morning Light”, cheekily dedicating it to the Hudson River plane crash “survivors.”
As Ida then tore into “Louie”, the cameras in the front row rose up to catch fiery-eyed images of the growling singer before them. “I just wonder New York… have you got room for me?!” she yelled into the microphone. The affirming response from the crowd was more than enough approval, as Ida bore down and shimmied in her little gold dress through heavy handed pop punk chords and melodic sing-along choruses.
“It takes a lot of energy you know, to be drunk all the time,” maintained Ida, slugging back a cup of beer and proceeding to spin around the stage, pausing only to glance at the set list scribbled down her arm every now and then. “Queen of the World”, a particularly upbeat cut proclaiming, “Whiskey please / I need some whiskey please”, quickly followed, slowly building to a bouncy crescendo where Ida teasingly sang to one of the audience members who insisted upon throwing devil horns after each song.
As the show continued, Ida proceeded to get messier and messier. Her voice was obviously suffering (perhaps it was the brutally cold weather) as she had to occasionally depend on her backup singers to hit the high notes, lest her voice crack into a million pieces. This temporary handicap didn’t stop Ida from getting down, though, as she shimmied, shook, and spun around until it looked as though she might spin clear off the stage. Ida finished off the set with her two most popular cuts, “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” and “Oh My God”. The former, a song about sexual security versus the anxiety felt outside of the bedroom, exploded with perhaps the best known chorus of the night (“I like you so much better when you’re naked / I like me so much better when you’re naked”) as the first few rows of the audience leapt around with her.
As if this weren’t enough, the euphoria reached its peak when Ida lost her guitar and simultaneously lost control as the opening chords to “Oh My God” rang out. She grabbed her water bottle and dumped the cool contents onto her head, mashed her hair around with her hands and yelled the lyrics to the song about trying to gain control over the uncontrollable parts of life. “OH MY GOOOOD!” cried Ida Maria who at this point looked quite insane with her eyes bugged out and the top part of her sparkly gold dress coming undone. After much shrieking and shouting, she ended the set on this note, leaving after much bombast but with no encore.
Ida’s set was short and sweet, and the promise of her forthcoming US release of Fortress Round My Heart is most likely that much more hotly anticipated. But perhaps the most impressive thing about Ida Maria is her willingness to lose her voice when it’s already scratchy and rock out as women in music rarely do anymore for fear of smudging something. Whatever makeup Ida had on was smudged into oblivion by then end of the set. Consider this overseas egg hatched.