THE venue’s only just opened. Tipped LA outfit Idaho are opening for Radial Spangle and Sundial and there’s hardly anybody here. Six people gather stagefront, the rest slouch around drinking beer and playing pinball. Above the chatter, two gruff Yorkshire voices ponder the nature of the act. “Who the fook are they?” asks one. “More bloody Americans,” his friend snorts dismissively. “And if they’re no good we’ll fookin’ can ‘em.”
Seconds later, Jeff Martin stands centre stage alone with his guitar, deep in concentration. He starts to play, so quietly at first that you can hear the crush of a lager tin. Shit, he thinks, this ain’t gonna be easy. And then they come, those stark but voluminous waves of electricity. People aren’t talking so much now, they’re gathering round and when Martin opens his mouth outcomes a great howl of anguish that stuns the crowd into silence. “Here’s another wasted life/We’ll be putting down the stones again.”
Hey, optimism! But his choked, weary voice hangs heavy in this place and, as the song ends, you can hear a pin drop.
Rightly or wrongly, Idaho have already been firmly pigeon-holed in the “New Depressives” category that also includes Red House Painters and AMC. There is a morose, painful truth within their music that can be disconcerting; it’s in the tense, broody mood, the subject matter (the futility of life), the forlorn, resigned manner in which Martin chews upon his vocals. So why is listening to them such a purifying and uplifting experience?
Because to hear Idaho is to acknowledge the unspoken bond that can exist between human beings on their journey toward The End. When Jeff Martin, with colleague John Berry and band perform, his sad, disconsolate but incredibly spirited music seems to complete an electrical circuit between the man and his audience. There’s no hiding place, no escape from our mortality. Listening to Idaho’s minimal, mesmeric sculptures, we feel naked, humbled and human.
As I sit, awestruck, listening to the heartfelt tug of “Skyscrape” (“The harder you try/To be respected/It’s not difficult to see why you are/Not happy”], I’m reminded of This Mortal Coil’s cover of “Kangaroo”, and of how life’s inherent struggle gives us reason for living.
Listening to Idaho provides fuel to go on.