Managing to avoid the schmaltz, Getintothis’ Glyn Akroyd finds the country troubadour forging a special relationship with her audience.
Lindi Ortega takes to the stage with a basic three piece of lead, bass and drums already cranking out some big, booming cowboy chords. Attired in her trademark cowgirl meets Southern Gothic look she is in good voice from the off, launching straight into Neighbourhood and establishing the bands rockier credentials.
As support act Jordan Klassen said earlier, “I’m very quiet and Lindi’s very loud, you’re gonna have fun”. Hailing from Vancouver, Klassen is on his first trip to anywhere with “buildings more than a hundred years old – awesome”. His troubadour set is well received by an attentive crowd who are clearly here to listen. Klassen delivers strong melodies, songs that are both reflective and forceful, and pushes his voice into the upper registers to pleasing, ethereal effect.
With many acts in the Country oeuvre there’s a fine line between the schmaltz and the sublime and we are hoping the night will be more dirty back roads than radio-friendly sheen tonight. Now we know there are Country fans who will take exception to that perhaps shallow comparison, but you get our drift.
Ortega is in fact able to mix things up extremely well and avoids the schmaltz tag with ease, incorporating, western swing, boogie and blues into her repertoire. After the up-tempo opening she takes things down with the beautifully delivered Half Moon and All My Friends, Ryan Gavel’s walking bass lines setting the pace on the former and drummer Noah Hungat’s crisp patterns pushing along the latter. She straps a guitar on and kicks up the pace again during I Ain’t The Girl and the heavier, bluesy Demons as the heartache, cigarettes, weed and whisky imagery mines a rich vein of mid-West storytelling. The crowd are well versed in these songs and it doesn’t take long before many are singing along, couples catching each others eyes as familiar lines evoke personal memories.
There’s not a huge amount of chat between songs and when she takes time to explain the meaning behind Faded Gloryville (title track from her latest album) we really wish she hadn’t, as it strips the subsequent performance of some of its mystery. It is however a hauntingly delivered, slow paced ballad that highlights Ortega’s classically emotive, aching delivery and features a rich, soaring guitar solo by Champagne James Robertson reminiscent of Ry Cooder’s playing on John Hyatt’s Lipstick Sunset. A highlight.
The promised covers appear late in the set but are well worth the wait. Both The Bee Gees To Love Somebody and Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me get the whole room singing and are rapturously received, giving a nod in the right direction to the soul influences in the mid-West melting pot, an influence obviously not lost on Ortega as some of the Faded Gloryville album was recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals studios, one of the historical hotspots for soul music in Alabama. The clarity and richness of her voice and the band’s snappy delivery nail it.
As she sings the opening line of Tin Star – “Oh you don’t know me, I’m a nobody” – a woman shouts “Oh I love this song”, which neatly sums up the feeling in the room and the empathetic relationship Ortega has forged with her audience. It’s another beautifully delivered ballad and with its swelling chords and ‘I wrote this song for those who are like me, lost in the shining stars of Nashville, Tennessee’ chorus, you can imagine it becoming something of a country classic.
A rocking version of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire takes us home and if the activity around the merch tables at the end is anything to go by, this will be a pretty successful tour for Ortega and her band.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Keith Ainsworth.