Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lindi Ortega, Manchester Deaf Institute, 24th January 2014 8/10

Lindi Ortega's last show in Manchester was one of my fondest musical memories from 2013, so I was excited to see her again in my favourite small venue. Her previous two albums were short-listed for the prestigious Canadian Polaris Prize, and Tin Star was released in October to favourable reviews. Yet Lindi's above all a live performer, more notable for her joy on stage than experimentalism in her music. Her debt to Johnny Cash is often mentioned, and indeed a cover of one of his songs came after the hour long main set. Yet she has Mexican and Irish blood, and is known for a Ramones cover, which is a sign that she doesn't fit into the mainstream country world. After an unlikely support role, she said she has found the punk scene more accepting of what the Guardian called her 'acerbic take on country'.

Tom Hickox, opening for Lindi on this tour, is as much an outsider, and probably felt so in Manchester when he explained in standard English that he was from 200 miles south. He cites Nick Cave as an influence, and his music sounds apart from many of his peers, with a 60's and 70's feel. The accompaniment also embodies the harmonies of classical music, a reflection perhaps of his late father, the renowned conductor Richard Hickox. His demeanour was reserved and formal, dressed in a three piece suit, and the subject matter serious. This is evident in the title of his upcoming album War Peace and Diplomacy, which has echoes of PJ Harvey in intent. Your reaction to his act though may hinge on his vocals, which are not at all classical in style and may be influenced by his association with Richard Hawley. Some may find it a little contrived, others serenely moving, but it's the product of struggle, his first song being written at the age of 17 when he was gravely ill in hospital. He certainly warrants further investigation.

Whilst Tom is at an early stage as a singer songwriter, Lindi spent ten years playing her local Toronto scene before moving to Nashville and touring internationally. The attention to detail in the performance betrays the depth of this experience. Most shows on this tour have sold out, and she remarked happily how much larger this crowd was than the one she played at the Soup Kitchen last March. Her reputation is growing, and one dedicated fan at the front was following her round the country, enthusiastically attending eight shows. She's an incredibly hard working musician, and diligent in building support on social media. Indeed, the title song on Tin Star is about the plight of the struggling musician, as she explained in a recent interview. Her interaction with the crowd was warm and playful, a sense of humour doing much to build a rapport. Lindi also has a distinctive visual style, wearing a veil and the little red boots which gave their name to her 2011 album.

Lindi moves and dances freely, and I noticed an increase in her presence and energy over the last year, whilst her voice is electrifying. In fact, she even danced amongst the crowd during an encore, and performed a surprise new song, Ashes and Dreams. The lyrics may be dark, about loneliness and heartache, but the overall effect is uplifting. A drummer accompanied during some numbers, but it was her amazing guitar player, James Robertson, who made the greatest contribution to the atmosphere, totally committed and often smiling. Lindi has spoken of the influence of the philosopher Albert Camus, and even written a song about her favourite painter Frida Kahlo; but an academic analysis misses the point. She provides an escape from the mundanity of everyday life, and her show is an energising infusion of joy and happiness. Her star is in ascendence: don't miss the chance to see her in a small venue.

Set List
  • Hard As This (Tin Star)
  • All My Friends (Little Red Boots)
  • Waitin On My Luck To Change (Tin Star)
  • Tin Star
  • Desperado (Eagles cover)
  • Demons Don't Get Me Down (Cigarettes and Truckstops)
  • High (Cigarettes and Truckstops)
  • Ashes and Dreams (new song)
  • Lived and Died Alone (Tin Star)
  • Heaven Has No Vacancy (Cigarettes and Truckstops)
  • Blue Bird (Little Red Boots)
  • The Day You Die (Cigarettes and Truckstops)
  • Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash cover)
  • No Bold Villain (Timber Timbre cover)
  • Little Lie (Little Red Boots) 

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