[6 March 2009]
The minimalist folk music of Ida was so ethereal, concentrated, and beautiful at times, it’s as if they had coaxed their sounds from the earth’s elements—air, for the bellows of various sound-boxes and the music’s lightness; fire, igniting and electrifying Dan Littleton’s guitar; earth, procuring their instruments’ bodies; and water, the common solvent, generating a lyrical flow. No other sources would be sufficiently raw or beautiful.
The intimate setting of Joe’s Pub was ideal to listen to Ida’s delicate harmonies and sentimental melodies. Though a time-constrained set, the group—consisting of Littleton, singers Elizabeth Mitchell and Karla Schickele, violinist Jean Cook, and percussionist Ruth Keating—relished the venue’s sensitive acoustics and the crowd’s attentiveness.
Their first song didn’t start so much as emerge. Littleton and Mitchell played complimentary rolling patterns on mini hand-held xylophones, and as they ebbed and flowed together they slowly added harmonies, singing, “I have not been here before.”
The somber lucidity of Mitchell’s vocals were arresting and soothing at the same time. And when paired with Littleton’s parallel intonations, or the entire band’s gentle backing vocals, their sound was sonorous and lush.
Ida sounded equally fragile and sparse too. The majority of their instrumentations and accompaniments began with faint strumming and would eventually swell into all-encompassing droning tones, with the help of Cook’s even-handed violin bowing or Mitchell’s harmonium. Their attention to sonic textures made for really interesting combinations of tones and layered together made Mitchell’s plain but increasingly gorgeous voice float above it all.
Their tactile focus made their song structure become increasingly repetitive, however, and one had to scrutinize the lyrics or melody to find distinctions between numbers.
Littleton added density with electric-guitar cadences on “Late Blues”, creating monstrous distortion and feedback during the chorus and bridge. It was a jarring contrast to the verse’s introspective shell.
The best song of the night used to be about America, we were told, but instead had simply become another Dolly Parton cover, “The Pain of Loving You.” The treat was that they ditched their mics and exploited the small room’s acoustics singing a cappella.
Ida’s last song was the closest they’ll “ever come to ‘We Will Rock You’”. They got everyone tapping the song’s simple beat in unison on tables/people, revealing further their elemental nature.