Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Lindi Ortega, Manchester Soup Kitchen, 4th March 2013 9/10
After the previous night's exceptional Sigur Ros experience, I was a little nervous about my response to this gig. The support act Zervas and Pepper, whilst charming, was on their first UK tour and still refining their songs for live performance. Yet, in the opening seconds of Lindi Ortega's set the atmosphere in the room was electrified. Her appearance is striking, and her glamour part of the act, yet this is of complete irrelevance given her remarkable vocal abilities. Along with the 80 other people present, I feel privileged to have experienced this calibre of music making in such a small space. Lindi remarked at one stage that we were a quiet audience, which may be true in comparison to some of the more uninhibited American crowds she's performed for, but we were spellbound.
Lindi is from Toronto, but now based in Nashville, and her repertoire is heavily rooted in the country tradition. She sounds as if she's been brought up in the Deep South, so fully has she immersed herself in her character. Lindi paid homage to stars of the past with covers such as Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, Kitty Wells' version of Making Believe and the folk standard The House of the Rising Sun. Yet her own material is also richly varied in mood. A highlight for me was Heaven has No Vacancy, which Lindi explained was inspired by watching the documentary The Bridge. She attended Catholic school, and the song condemns the Church's lack of compassion towards suicide. As she movingly explained, the most troubled are those who are in greatest need of a place in heaven. Lindi engaged openly and sincerely with the audience, talking about times of darkness in her life as well as an ill advised tour romance.
The performance exuded confidence, her husky voice soaring with a strength of personality that isn't fully revealed on her two studio albums. I wasn't surprised to hear that she'd been performing under the radar for ten years before moving to Nashville: her stagecraft is impeccable. She was accompanied only by a slide guitar player and backing vocalist, and by her tour manager on the shaker and tambourine (substituted by a plucky audience member at the end). She played for over an hour and a half, the energy level never flagging, and I only rarely wished for the full band backing her at the London show. It's difficult to pick out highlights when it was such fun throughout, but I'd identify the title song from her second album Cigarettes and Truckstops and the witty Use Me, which she introduced as a public service announcement to atone for the preceding Little Bit High.
Like Terra Naomi whom I saw in this venue last autumn, her vocal ability creates a thrilling tension in the room. Lindi's voice of course sounds quite different, indebted to Dolly Parton, Stevie Nicks and Emmylou Harris. Some might expect this country folk to feel backward looking, but this 30 year old of Northern Irish and Mexican descent reinvigorates the genre, giving it relevance to a new audience. She sings movingly about tender emotions, but her rockability instinct provides a surprising energy. I'm told that she 'grew up shy and introverted'. Whilst she's learned to project an extrovert side to her personality on stage, her sensitivity brings a depth to her music that is compelling. She may have been given the gift of a stunning voice, but it's her humanity as she sings about heartbreak that creates such a powerful connection with the audience.