ida maria

8 o'clock at the Bell House in Brooklyn. It's still nearly empty. A few guys with strange facial hair; a few girls who take fashion tips from Amy Winehouse. Two bands take their turns on the stage - both decent enough, both from Austin, TX, with overlapping rosters. My date and I sit sipping our drinks, tapping fingers on the table.

The second band finishes their set and hands begin changing the stage. We notice the place starts filling up. It's almost magical. The space goes from rather cavernous to distinctly tight in a matter of 15 minutes or so. (Nice space, by the way.) We end up leaving our table, to avoid having our view of the stage blocked by 10 rows of bodies.

Two strikingly model-handsome young men are testing the mics. They retreat somewhere. Minutes crawl by. People crowd the stage. Anticipation builds - for some of us. For others - like my date - it's more like impatience.

And then, something shifts - they turn the piped-in music off. The men come back onstage. This time, they've slipped on those invisible cloaks of working showmen. They are joined by another one, equally beautiful, who sits behind the drum sets. The first two guys flank the stage with their guitar and bass. The crowd perks. And then, she comes out.

She looks like she would taste of angel's food cake - a white, voluptuous milkmaid-type from the Norwegian fjords. A red polka-dot dress with tiny puff sleeves, a gathered waist and a calf-length pleated skirt. A flower clipped into fine, wispy light brown hair. Milky skin and rosy lips. Cream and sugar and spice and everything nice. The face of a Nordic angel.

She smiles at the audience, drinking in their shouts and applause. And then, the Nordic angel opens her mouth and sings in that rending voice of a Lilith screaming at the gates of paradise. Songs of love and lust and desperation and life itself.

She stalks the stage like the consummate punk rocker she is, her almost overly-feminine appearance belied by her brash movements. She cordially shoves into her guitarist. She swings the mike stand over her shoulder and doesn't give a damn when it hooks on the hem of her long dress and raises it at high as her head. She wipes the perspiration off her forehead in gestures that have absolutely no daintiness. She sinks to the stage and finishes a song sitting cross-legged, her head in her hands. She dips Snus several times during the show, responding to the "Woot"s with "No, no. Nothing to woot about. This is a very, very bad habit, do you understand?"

There is something intriguing about her light accent; her English is somehow both milder and harder than that of native speakers. Softened consonants, shortened vowels. "And this next song," she says several times, "is about eck-sacktly the same thing." Heartache, anger, sex.

"I must tell you," she tells us, coyly, "I've had some champagne before the show. And it kind of . . . got to me. Did you notice? No?"

"Have you ever been fucked over," she says once, "so bad you could hardly walk afterwards?" And then launches into "Drive Away My Heart."

She delivers the wonderfully pop-y raunchy single "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" with the effusiveness of a 60's yeye girl. She sings the wry "Stella" about "God's girlfriend." The self-deprecating ode to the state of inebriation, "Queen of the World." The deep, intimate, incredibly sexy "Keep Me Warm," which was featured on one of Grey's Anatomy most compelling scenes ever for a good reason. And all the other songs from her record, "Fortress Round My Heart."

Near the end of the set, she opens another bottle of spring water, guzzles down some of it - and then, pours the rest over her head. She raises her face up, the water sluicing over it. She shakes her hair out, spraying water droplets over the first three rows, grinning with delight. This is what the famous scene in "Flashdance" didn't quite manage to evoke. Her flower clip flies off and lands somewhere on stage left. She doesn't seem to notice. She rubs her hands over her eyes, smearing mascara all over her face.

She steps back to the mic, her pale, smudged face starkly illuminated by the stage lights. And then, the guitars start throbbing in a way familiar to all her fans - it's the intro to her hit single "Oh My God."

Find a cure, find a cure for my life,
Find a cure, find a cure for my life,
Find a cure, find a cure for my life,
Find a cure, find a cure for my life,
Oh my God, do you think I'm in control?
Oh my God, do you think it's all for fun?

Oh my God, do you think I'm in control?
Oh my God, do you think it's all for fun?

It's primal scream therapy, the quick, insistent, building tempo, the repetitive lyrics, and her throat-twisting heart-throttling vocals. It's musical catharsis. It's what rock-'n'-roll was all about - translating pure, violent, sometimes ugly emotion into sound.

By the end of the song, she looks exhausted. I don't blame her. Out in the audience, that song - the experience of that song - has left me exhausted. The band leaves the stage. She lingers for only a minute longer, picks up her flung-off flower, clips it back into her hair. Picks up a joint someone threw on the stage, winks at the audience. And then, bows her head, and walks off.

No one is leaving. A few minutes later, our patience is rewarded. They come back out. She smiles at us. "So . . . we're gonna play another song now," she says in that funny abrupt way she has. And they perform a new song, not yet recorded. It's called "We're All Going to Hell." And it's slow, and deliberate, and penetrating.

And by the end of it, I am in love with Ida Maria. And if she is one of us, the fate described in her song - well, it might not be such a bad one.

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