Providence’s AS220 is a great little club, that dark, little, basement dive in your dreams, the one with exposed wiring and the stale stench of beer. Its only deviation from the romanticized punk version is that this place is actually clean: No water on the floor and no beer soaked into the floorboards. There’s art on the wall and a sound system that lets you make out the vocals.
But do you actually want to hear them? Unlike the club, Gloria Deluxe’s shoddy look was not immediately endearing. My pre-conceived notions about the members’ appearance (the upright bass player was wearing a trucker hat and had the standard tattoos) led me to conclude that the band wouldn’t be anything special.
But they made white-girl, retro-blues work, through understated instrumentals and a smooth slur in the vocals. I’d compare the singing to Billie Holiday but I know that would only highlight my ignorance. What I can say is that it wasn’t drippy and it never occurred to me to think they were play-acting.
With just violin, nicely played guitar, occasional accordion, brushed drums, and upright bass, Gloria Deluxe’s sound was never tired. The band built up froth towards the end, arriving with an intensity that seemed to come from nowhere. The quieter stuff before the swell worked just as well and, once front woman Cynthia Hopkins got moving, she had no problem cementing a swaggering stage persona, one that could have been full of holes.
Ida opened with a series of songs from their newest album, Heart Like A River, threw in a few older songs (including personal favorites “Down On Your Back” and “Maybelle” off of the fine Will You Find Me), and two even newer ones, including the un-laughingly titled “The Love Below”.
Guitarist Dan Littleton was in a play-along mood (no one else in the band really seemed to be) but their stage show became a secondary concern once Littleton, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Karla Schickele began singing. Even if a part of you doesn’t completely buy in to the sentiment and thinks that the band is waterlogged, when the vocals gang up on you it’s hard to feel anything but totally engaged.
Ida are much better singers than lyricists and on their best songs the strong suit helps you forget the weak one. To be fair, though, when the lyrics are forced to get by without harmonies, the sappiest words stick out like a sore thumb. The new songs tended to contain a few such clunkers.
The trio, filled out for this performance with violin and drums, sounded fantastic. It sounded like Littleton was running acoustic through effects, though, a move that stripped it of a lot of personality. Still, the band’s members are all tasteful and accomplished players and their singing can more than fill-up a room. While they aren’t exactly dynamic performers their skills demand your attention and they put across the new songs better live than they do on their record.
According to their website, the band cancelled the first few shows of this tour due to health problems. On this night, at least, they looked strong, if gentle, and their voices were more than enough to warm-up a cold Providence night.