Over the May Bank Holiday weekend, the IO Earth ‘extended family’ gather in Birmingham, where the band are staging their annual hometown celebratory weekend. Saturday had seen an acoustic concert in St Paul’s Church, but the showpiece event is this Sunday show. Almost 500 fans from as far afield as Scandinavia, America and Mexico, have filled this beautifully-appointed theatre, to witness a performance which will see the band augmented by a four-piece horn section and a string trio comprising cello, viola and violin. Tonight is clearly far more than just a regular IO Earth gig.
As the performance starts in low-key mode, vocalist Linda Odinson enters dressed in a white gown, reminiscent of a vampire bride from an old Hammer film, exuding ice cold Nordic elegance, as the band weave a beautiful tapestry of sound showcasing the string section. All this is a mere prequel, however, for the moment guitarist/bandleader Dave Cureton enters the fray and the band slam into Redemption, from the latest album New World; it is at this point that we realise we have a serious show on our hands.
If IO Earth have a trademark sound, it’s an unlikely, yet effective, mix of Renaissance and The Fierce And The Dead.
The music of IO Earth is stylistically varied, but if they have a particular trademark, it would be the contrast between stirring melodic passages and great slabs of anvil-heavy riffing, almost like an unlikely, yet effective, mix of Renaissance and The Fierce And The Dead. One might expect the addition of the string section to complement the quieter material more, but the opposite is the case, as the already powerful heavy passages are imbued with an added sense of drama which invokes the spirit of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. Cureton bestrides the stage like a leather-jacketed Teutonic invader, engaging in blistering interplay with violinist Jez King, multi-instrumentalist Adam Gough and the powerful soprano sax of Luke Shingler. Meanwhile, Odinson’s voice is remarkable, with operatic flourishes never contriving to sound mannered or clinical. She is a magnificent discovery.
After the first half of the set closes with the epic Finest Hour, all Churchillian samples and glorious bombast, the second part opens just as strongly with two of the standout pieces from the new album, New World and the propulsive Journey To Discovery. For this half, Odinson has opted to exchange her vampiric elegance for ‘film noir’ torch-singer glamour, as she emerges in a shimmering, full-length dress. By the time the show concludes with New World, the curfew-busting finishing time of 11:45pm does mean some seats are empty, but a rapturous standing ovation leaves no-one in any doubt of the success of the show.