Idaho singer/guitarist Jeff Martin flashed a smile that, for an instant, sliced like a knife through the heavy haze of dolor and gloom that he had just labored to construct. "After the show," he said from the stage upstairs at the Middle East a week ago Wednesday, reassuring the person who had just presented him with a crown of balloons that looked as if it had been plucked from a Macy's Day parade float. "He got me a `happy hat' to wear because he thought that I'm looking a little depressed. But wearing that would be such a juxtaposition to the way I sing." Instead, Martin turned the headdress over to his bassist and returned to his residence in the shadows.
You'd never guess from hearing either of their new discs, Hearts of Palm or the live concert document People like Us Should Be Stopped (both released on Idaho Music, the band's own label), but Idaho -- whose line-up these days revolves around songwriter/bandleader Martin and guitarist/keyboardist Dan Seta -- actually do have reason to smile. For one thing, the Los Angeles outfit has outlasted most of its slowcore peers (Codeine, American Music Club, etc.) and survived a couple of label changes with its creative spirit -- not to mention its audience -- intact. For another, after a four-year hiatus from touring, Idaho are back on the road for a series of US dates before heading to Europe later this month.
If the band's 40-minute set at the Middle East seemed a tad brief, their excavation of material was thorough enough, touching on peaks that spanned most of the group's seven-year history. Among the highlights: "Jump Up" and "Run But You Ran," a pair of bittersweet tracks from '98's Alas (Buzz) that opened the show; the slow-pan snapshot of "Sweep," from '94's This Way Out (Caroline); and the set-closing "A Sound Awake," from '96's artfully desolate Three Sheets to the Wind (Caroline).
"When will I leave this place? I sleep and dream around your songs that never end," Martin sang with great languor on "Forever" as waves of feedback did slow-motion somersaults and one dissonant melody transmogrified into another. At the song's simmering core was a sense of grand dislocation writ large by the band's ceaselessly unspooling soundscapes and Martin's dry, parched tenor, which pointed like a compass to the passage of miles and years that had come before and lay ahead.
-- Jonathan Perry