Despite once being accused, somewhat inaccurately, of having a preponderance of Canadian artistes in my CD collection, tonight was to be, as far as I can remember, the first time I have seen a Canadian perform live since I saw Rush back in I-can’t-remember-when. Unlike that time, this was a gig slightly out of my comfort zone, with prog-rock being replaced by alt-country.
I hadn’t realised that I was to be seeing two Canadians until support act Jordan Klassen announced that he was from Vancouver – a city, he informed us, where any building over one hundred years old automatically gets awarded a blue plaque, so just imagine how wide-eyed he must have been wandering around York… Jordan arranged his short set into three pairs of similarly styled songs. The first pair – one not introduced, the other No Salesman, saw him play guitar in a dexterous, finger-picking style that was both fascinating to watch and led me to wonder whether I had picked up enough knowledge of technique to work out that he as adding his own bass-line with the lower fingers. His singing voice lost the Canadian accent that he spoke with and was, for the most part, gentler than I expected. Most of the songs included wordless sections, the opener including a section that could have been described as almost yodelling, softened as he moved away and towards the microphone. The middle two songs – Go To Me and The Horses Are Stuck – lost my interest slightly, despite the former, containing similar vocal gymnastics as the first pair, but with added whistling, being particularly received by the audience. For them, Jordan had switched guitar for a ukulele and they were just too musically sparse for my liking. Then it was back to guitar again for Gargoyles, which was preceded by the story about historic buildings, and Firing Squad. These saw a more powerful, perhaps less intricate, style of guitar playing. The former, with its distinct change of pace partway through, drew a big cheer from the audience. The lively latter brought the set to a close and Jordan, with a quick, “Thanks,” a smile and a wave left the stage, returning briefly for the ukulele before grabbing a beer and chatting with punters at the merchandise desk.
Between acts I glanced around the crowd noting, once again, how acts can gather together a diverse set of fans, young and older. From the two ladies at the front in cowboy boots which, in the dim lighting, looked to be red and blue but could easily have actually been brown and black, to the young woman with bright blue hair this was another mixed audience. There was at least one checked shirt, surely obligatory at any country music gig and one man wearing a Johnny Cash sweatshirt, along with a couple of familiar faces that I am more used to seeing at prog or general rock gigs, once again proving that I am not the only person in York with wide tastes in music.
As Lindi Ortega performed, I decided that I would be as careful as possible, perhaps even more so than usual, while putting this write-up together. A couple of times during her set she referred to a review of a previous night on this tour, in which the author had not only wrongly guessed the motivation for including one song but also included not one but two scientific inaccuracies that had nothing to do with the gig anyway and I have no desire to be called out in a similar fashion during any future gigs.
Lindi’s band – Ryan Gavel on bass, Noah Hungate on drums and guitarist James Robertson – came on stage first, greeting the audience with a shout of, “How y’all doing?” before starting a catchy introduction which brought the lady herself running on and kicking things off with the light and effervescent Run-Down Neighborhood. First impressions were that her bright lipstick, half-face veil and something about her vocals were reminiscent of the sort of just-post-war glamour you often see in film, while her hair, a tumbling black mass, brought things more up to date. Rarely still, she must have covered pretty much every inch of the stage with her prowling and dancing, occasionally flashing coquettish looks towards the audience. (I’ve kept that description in, although it might get me a mention…) The track from her latest album was followed by Dying Of Another Broken Heart, from Little Red Boots, which she described as her first (although discographies seem to belie that fact). It opened in more of a traditional country style but, like the first track, ended on a lively instrumental section. Before the next track, Lindi explained that she had a day off tomorrow and that she would be spending it in York, looking for a Yorkshire Pudding… the size of her head. Later she would ask if anybody knew where she would be able to get one and at least one person suggested that she came round to their house.
Described as a “little lullaby”, Half Moon saw her opening vocals almost unaccompanied, lovely and crystal clear. Lindi picked up an acoustic guitar for the next track. Angels wasn’t introduced but the opening chords brought forth a whoop for the audience, its slow start eventually bursting into life, with Lindi playing off Gavel while Robertson played one of his many bottleneck guitar sections. The songs were coming thick and fast, with lively I Ain’t The Girl followed by Demons Don’t Get Me Down. Faded Gloryville, the title track of Lindi’s latest album, was the only one that she introduced by telling its story – it’s about following your dreams and how hard it can be to do so and she said it was for “those with moments of doubt”. It was lovely, slow and emotional.
According to Wikipedia, “alternative country” is that which differs in style from the mainstream genre and the pounding drum and rumbling bass opening to Ashes certainly fit that bill. Then it was back onto acoustic guitar and a brief pause while Lindi tuned it for Lived And Died Alone, a softer track with another unaccompanied opening showcasing more of those beautiful vocals. Hard As This was followed by another drum and bass opening, with Lindi back on vocals only for Run Amuck, a catchy song that saw Lindi standing on the drum riser helping out Hungate towards its end. Slowing the pace down again, Tell It Like It Is saw a return to the coquettishness and was followed by a cover of The Eagles’ Desperado, accompanied only by Robertson, during which you could have heard a pin drop in the audience, perhaps in a mark of their respect to the recent passing of Glen Frey (although that, she inferred, wasn’t the reason for its inclusion). With Gavel and Hungate back on stage and Lindi once again taking up acoustic guitar, we were treated to Cigarettes And Truckstops, a gorgeously slow track during which Roberston’s electric guitar adding a sublime atmosphere. After another cover, this time The Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody and then, back on acoustic guitar, Lindi counted in Little Lie in Spanish, above Hungate tapping a rhythm out on the rims of his drums before rattling off the almost tongue-twisting repetitive lyrics and bringing the main set to a close, leaving the stage with just a wave and a smile.
As usual, it wasn’t long before the band took to the stage again, Lindi apologising to one audience member who shouted out a request, explaining they were, “doing a different one.” That turned out to be another cover of Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me. This version’s almost reggae feel added another musical dimension to the set. The acoustic guitar was taken up again, and almost immediately discarded when Lindi realised no sound was coming through from it. Ironically Tin Star contained the lyric “I got a busted string and a broken guitar” and Lindi emphasised that line, drawing laughter from the audience. Although she had mentioned having a cold, this song was the first time I noticed Lindi’s slightly throaty vocals. Personally, I thought they added character to the song. And then it was the final song of the evening, and a version of Ring Of Fire that was at times sultry and at others powerful and which contained a superb guitar section which was fully appreciated by the crowd. I wonder what the guy in the Johnny Cash sweatshirt made of it…