Cstone ’10: Wednesday evening
I first started listening to this Celtic prog-rock band named Iona well over a decade ago. They were one of the first bands I heard that gave me hope that it was possible to explore sacred text through music in an earnest, but very decidedly non-Sunday school way. I cheerfully admit that I’ve been a bit of a fanboy ever since.
It didn’t take much to hook me on their impeccable, even quirky musical skills–their first albums prominently featured Nick Beggs on the Chapman stick against jazzy sax riffs, recent albums are marked by energetic uillean pipes and scorching electric guitar lines, and their current drummer is also a violinist who faithfully puts down breathtakingly gorgeous string tracks at just the right point. Not to mention that I still owe my love of a deep synth foundation to them…while some tracks arguably sound “dated” today, in the early ’90s, it was like nothing else I had ever heard.
Both musically and lyrically, I was also engrossed by their utilization of the concept album (“Beyond These Shores” is a superb exploration of the legend of St. Brendan, “The Book of Kells” is an excellent meditation on that unique text, etc).
I wasn’t the only one that appreciated their music–Moya Brennan (Enya’s sister) from Clannad was/is a frequent contributor, Robert Fripp was a guest on “Journey Into the Morn,” their music has been featured on the BBC, etc.
I wanted to see them live for many years, but they simply didn’t come to the US for quite some time. I even took to looking up their concert dates (www.Iona.uk.com) each time I traveled to Europe, but to no avail. So when we heard that they were going to be at the festival in Illinois, the fifteen hour road-trip was quickly accepted.
To be brutally honest, I went into the show with the suspicion that their latest musical endeavors have come perilously close to losing both the musical and poetic edge that originally so distanced Iona from their gospel-rock peers on this side of the pond. Not to say that the recent work isn’t decent…(but a new song at the show had the words “cumulous” and “cirrus” in it. Sorry, but that just didn’t work). That said, their performance as a whole on Wednesday night as a whole was nothing short of razor sharp.
I was glad to be there.