Lindi Ortega, Live at The Garage, January 3oth
Late-January evenings of incessant rain, the air thick with melancholy and nostalgia, create the perfect backdrop for a night of heartrending Americana. Support act Tom Hickox sits at his keyboard and in baritone voice shares stories of “war peace and diplomacy”, setting the bar high in terms of emotional content and musical talent. There’s a brief break and newly-risen country darling Lindi Ortega steps onto the stage of Highbury’s Garage in a black lace dress, complete with birdcage veil, bright red lips and cheekbones you could cut yourself on.
Smokey stage lights wrap themselves around a slow-paced traditional country rhythm, sultry and soothing – but the steady intro of Hard as This is deceiving: with the chorus the song picks up pace, led by Lindi Ortega’s soft vibrato. Hers is a voice that could break hearts – hearts which, as her lyrics suggest, have survived aches and breaks and unrequited love, yet at the end of each song she makes jokes and smiles her warm ruby-red smile, radiating sweetness. Two songs in and already the crowd is an ensemble of foot stompin’ and hand clappin’. Gypsy Child feels like a glimpse into old, personal memories (“travelling singin’ songs, here for now but not for long…”) and of a virtual road trip which throughout the evening will take us across America’s landscape, past cities famous for their music legacy: from Toronto to Nashville, Tennessee, through LA and New Orleans.
On stage, Lindi Ortega has no secrets. With us, she shares her past, all its struggles and all its joys. She’s only just met us but opens up her heart with remarkable honesty, the autobiographical element rooted deep within her music. “I wrote this song…” she starts, in a perfect southern accent which takes us back to 1950s America. “I wrote this song,” she says, and lays bare her years as a struggling musician, before reaching the success she now enjoys. Tin Star, from her most recent album, is introduced as “one for the underdogs”. Once again we find ourselves wandering the dusty streets of Nashville. The song’s lyrics reach out to young musicians, it is the sum of years of frustration and, perhaps, moments of doubt, but “the music keeps on running through the blood in my veins, and it just makes me stay”, she sings. Though the words are undoubtedly melancholic, there is a heartbreakingly hopeful promise in the music. It might be clichéd in its intention to remind aspiring artists to stick to their guns, but Lindi passes on this message with a new and genuine truthfulness.
After a heart-warming cover of The Eagles’ Desperado, Lindi welcomes two very special guests onto the stage. The Webb Sisters join her side, apparently she is considered as their adopted, “creepy sister”. To celebrate this, she plays us her creepiest song – “If you’re into necrophilia you’ll love this one!” she smiles. Lived and Died Alone is a song of loneliness and longing, but despite its utterly sorrowful lyrics, the warmth of Lindi’s voice is a lover’s caress on a tear-streaked cheek.
Feelings of solitude and heartbreak run through each and every one of her songs – profoundly melancholic. Yet, with her jokes and anecdotes from past tours, her witty character and handsome guitar player who is all smiles, Lindi Ortega is one of the loveliest musicians I’ve ever come across. In Demons Don’t Get me Down the feeling of loneliness takes on a sexy stance, featuring a suggestive guitar solo from James Robertson, and with Voodoo Mama we’re taken “back to New Orleans”. Lindi states that once in a while, just once in a while, she writes a happy song. “So here’s one to lift spirits…” – “why?!” shouts someone from the crowd (and she reassures us she’ll go back to darker tunes in no time). Blue Bird is indeed delightful and cheery, traditional in its approach to country music, but it doesn’t strike a chord as much as her, well, sadder and more lonesome songs.
There follows a cover of Canadian band Timber Timbre’s No Bold Villain, and then Little Lie, with which she brings her set to an electrifying end. But soon enough Lindi returns to the stage for an encore, which in fact might well be the highlight of her show. “I can’t do a show without paying tribute to the Man in Black”, she says, and I can’t help but think Lindi Ortega is probably what Johnny Cash might look and sound like were he a beautiful young woman in little red boots. This cover of Ring of Fire, much slower than the original, is incredibly moving, Lindi’s voice both mellow and husky. We are treated with yet another classic, this time the perfectly apt So Lonesome I Could Cry, with beautifully gritty feedback solo. She saves Cigarettes and Truckstops, title track from her second album, for the end of her show, Robertson accompanying her voice with eerie guitar notes. Lindi tells us the story behind the song – though I can’t share it with you because I promised I wouldn’t. Before stepping off The Garage’s stage for the night, she treats us to one last bright and beautifully upbeat country song: The Day You Die is a perfect way in which to bid a happy audience farewell, leaving behind cheerful souls – or perhaps broken hearts, and a lipstick-stained microphone.
Lindi Ortega’s tour continues, visit her website for dates.