The Big Takeover # 48
CBGB Gallery, October 19, 2000; Fez, October 28; Knitting Factory, October 29, 2000
Once again, the rarely-touring Idaho turned up in New York and, over a few memorable nights, put the “trance” in transfixed. The under-appreciated Jeff Martin may be uncommonly fussy about his cascading, always-surprising guitar sounds; the entire mixing desk-worth of components he mounts nightly, stage right, to manage that sound is a tad extreme (if, characteristically, state of the art); and the endless array of precise textural samples he insists on are mere icing on a tasty cake; but as a singer he really wings it! The contrast between the ethereal, scratchy beauty of the guitars, the tight, moody, touring rhythm section, and his sometimes-wailing, soulful, unpolished vocals is as arresting as it is unreal. Best of all, though departed ace sidekick Dan Seta will likely be missed on future recordings, his tour stand-in, original guitarist and current Idaho Music label co-head John Berry, revisited the more wired pyrotechnics of the early Berry-era Idaho from a decade ago. His relaxed, good-humored, but intense-in-spurts presence and edgy playing on songs such as “Shoulderback” changed the dynamic of the band’s live attitude considerably, putting a charge into their more morose, sweet doldrums-side, and making the four-piece seem like they were having a better time. Perhaps the return of his old school-days friend settled the micromanaging, fastidious Martin enormously, as his demeanor was now more like that of a small-party host (with Berry as welcome, free-spirited, likable crasher). And the selection of songs, from all five LPs and three EPs, ranging from the beautiful-sad-sublime (The Forbidden EP’s “The Thick and the Thin,” the new Hearts of Palm’s “To Be The One”) to the pulverizing-frozen-gorgeous (a stunning “Get You Back” off the immortal Three Sheets To The Wind), to the bellowing hurt and raging (“Hearts Of Palm”) showed the depth of Martin’s writing over time. You could see this a dozen nights and come back for more. Hurrah for three chances, at least!