Perceived by many to be a slightly ridiculous genre in the past, there is now a stampede of artists charging at us under the banner of Country music and this does not appear to be subsiding. An example of this can be seen in this year’s Country 2 Country music festival, which has dramatically increased in size attracting some of the top artists of the genre. The popularity of hit TV show Nashville certainly appears to have contributed to this significant rise in interest, introducing viewers to Music City in all its soapy glamour, if not necessarily the reality of the industry itself.
Tonight, the genre’s broad spectrum of fans in Manchester are treated to a particularly sincere brand of country from Lindi Ortega. Oozing style and charm along with a self-deprecating manner on stage, all the component parts are present and correct, but her approach to the genre is currently a fraction more cynical than that of many of her contemporaries. This can probably be summed up best in a line from Tin Star when she candidly sings during the encore that, “If the music wasn’t running through the blood in my veins, I might just walk away.” This identifies Lindi’s current approach to her craft and possibly suggests that the evening was a pretty downbeat affair. This is certainly not the case. If anything, the Toronto native demonstrates a thrilling ability to take the genre by the scruff of the neck, shaking new angles and approaches out of rigid conventions that are ultimately hugely satisfying to experience.
What does seem to be waning in Manchester at present is a bit of common decency. I am perpetually amazed at the manners of people who decide to spend a night out experiencing live music who then proceed to rudely talk throughout the performance. The unfortunate musician this time in the support slot is Vancouver local Jordan Klassen, whose fragile compositions, accompanied by a delicate falsetto bearing pleasing similarities to Sufjan Stevens at times are sadly no match for the thoughtless ignoramuses seemingly unaware of the sabotage they are wreaking.
Lindi Ortega arrives in dramatic fashion just a few moments later, thankfully silencing the majority of the crowd as the animated Run Down Neighbourhood kickstarts the evening. Half Moon and Heaven Has No Vacancy follow and their evocative and mournful themes foreshadow much of what is to come. The downbeat tones are offset by Lindi’s complete enthusiasm and joy at being on stage, which is clear for all to see during I Ain’t the Girl. Despite previously suffering from a rotten cold earlier on the tour, Demons Don’t Get Me Down provides Lindi with an opportunity to demonstrate her penchant for exploring the boundaries of the country genre and the honkytonk rhythms are complimented by belting vocals as she prowls the stage purposefully, clearly enjoying the space she is sharing with fellow musicians James Robertson, Ryan Gavel, and Noah Hungate.
The next song is a significant moment in the setlist and the Nashville resident spends several moments introducing the themes inherent within Faded Gloryville, which clearly manifests the trepidation the singer-songwriter currently feels about the direction she and her fellow musicians are forced to follow in an increasingly challenging industry. Inspired by her interpretation of the film Crazy Heart and an awareness of the plight of Jeff Bridge’s character in particular, but also clearly augmented by her own experiences in the business, the song is the title track off her most recent album and it’s sombre motifs lay the foundations for much of the record and indeed the show tonight. Despite the inherent pessimism of much of Lindi Ortega’s recent material, the presentation is still full of passion and spirit and she skillfully maneuvers around a gamut of styles with great finesse, including an incredibly soulful version of The Bee Gee’s To Love Somebody along with the heartbreaking country themes delivered on Ashes.
The evening comes to a thrilling close during the encore. Lindi’s is clearly a fan of the icons of the genre and presents an electrifying version of Ring of Fire to an adoring crowd. James Robertson contribution on guitar throughout the evening has been incredible and the combination of Lindi’s impassioned vocals and his superlative ability to fashion unique rhythms and solos that accompany her performance ensure that the darker themes that have proved essential to the evening’s entertainment are ultimately disguised by the majesty of the performance.
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto