My wife & I saw Iona in concert yesterday at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, and the band was just fabulous. We were fortunate enough to have ordered tickets early enough to have landed front-row seats, and were sitting just toward the center of the stage from new piper Martin Nolan. I’ve been following this band for twelve years, and this is the first time I’ve had a chance to see them, as this is apparently the only time they’ve ever been in this area. I hope they come back soon, as the show was simply fabulous. Excepting a brief tuning problem at the beginning of Chi-Rho, they were as flawless as you’ll hear a rock band. At times the mixing was a bit improper, but it turns out the guy doing the mixing was not with the band, but was someone who had never heard them before, and so had no way to anticipate the various dynamics of this remarkably versatile outfit.
The set, as would be expected, was heavy on material from their newest album, Another Realm.
Apart from that, though, there was surprisingly little newer material, with almost all the other songs coming from their highly productive early period of 1990-1995. The band may have gotten a bit more than they bargained for when, after strongly encouraging the audience to dance, they ended up with more than a dozen uninhibited patrons joining them on stage for a finale of reels. It’s not uncommon to see nuts at rock concerts, but the off-the-wall element of this particular crowd seemed amusingly trapped in a spiritual vortex conflating the reckless abandon of a middle-ager’s mosh pit with a kind of quasi-charismatic Christian piety. It was sight to behold, and fortunately nobody was hurt – not even Martin Nolan, who was mildly molested by one dope.
My only regret is not stopping to speak with the band afterwards to thank them. In truth, I owe them a debt of sorts. Just before I began listening to Iona, I had reached a point where I was despairing of being able to continue listening to contemporary music. The Christian music I was aware of was – how can I put this delicately? – aesthetically challenged, saccharine perhaps, maybe even insipid. On the other hand, the music I liked from an aesthetic perspective was increasingly grating on me because of its own insipidity – that of its spiritual ethos: that ubiquitous modern ethos of self-indulgent hedonism, nihilism, and/or smug bourgeois transgressionism. You know, modernism – broadly considered.
Iona bridged that gap for me, and though I still find most contemporary music to be morally and spiritually insipid, and most contemporary Christian music to be cloyingly sentimental and musically banal, Iona has not only exposed me to a whole genre of music that is both artistically and spiritually serious, but they’ve allowed me to ground my encounter of the broader panoply of contemporary music in a context free of the despair and alienation I was experiencing as I reached my forties, which has enabled me to be somewhat more tolerant of the shortcomings of lesser artists, and better able to enjoy them as far as they might warrant it. I guess that means I’m not a complete old fuddy-duddy yet, which might be a good thing.