Perhaps no one seemed more surprised by Montreal’s adoring welcome than Lindi Ortega herself.
The Montreal crowd that packed Quai des Brumes seemed a little surprised that so many other people had discovered the vampy country singer. Sure she had a few Canadian music nominations, but it’s not like she’s on the radio (CBC excepted). Had everyone gotten that free download of Little Lie off itunes a year back? Ultimately, in the end, no one cared how the other audience came to know “indie Lindi”. Montrealers know good music and it only takes one song to know that Ortega’s got it, that magical spark of vulnerability and balls. Her songs are arrows of truth that pierce through a noir-ish, aching heart.
The crowd waited with a saint’s patience. Doors for the show opened late, leaving the audience grumpily outside in the cold. The long, table-filled narrow room offered few spaces to stand once the first wave of people snatched them. An old-timed flavored set by Devin Cuddy cut the wait, but not by much. Finally, a wave of enthusiastic cheers rose from the rear as Ortega was steered through the crowd by her guitarist. She responded with a once-upon-a-time-in-French-immersion “Merci, beaucoup. Bienvenue,” took a curtsy, and with passion as big as her black dress was short, set the room on fire.
Playing a solid mix of new songs from her recently released Tin Star, old ones and Ortega-touched covers (Ring of Fire, Bang Bang, No Bold Villain), she bewitched everyone. “I’m witchy,” she told the audience, promising them that Waitin’ On My Luck To Change would turn bad luck into good. The audience passed an imaginary joint around the room at her request during High. Some even feigned sharing mouthfuls of smoke to those beside them. She introduced most songs with anecdotes about their inspiration. Most, not surprisingly, are about heartbreak — Hard as This is about being asked for more space in a relationship, Ashes is about a man who disappeared (called Houdini, of course). Others, though, have far darker origins. “Je suis sombre,” she warned before introducing Heaven Has No Vacancy about a failed suicide.
However serious the lyrics, Ortega’s music is always accessible. Although she casting her lot with the country genre, songs are tinted with different sensibilities, whether 60s psychedelia, indie pop, or moody goth. The range reflects one of the key things about Ortega — she’s more than just red cowgirl boots and a black lace hairnet. She can dig into her guitar and play like she’s channelling the spirits of musicians past. Then she slinks over to the piano and showed off she’s a keysmith as well. Adding good to good, her backing band is as gifted as she.
Ortega seemed genuinely flattered to have a following in Montreal. She extended gratitude again and again to the audience, even thanking them for coming to support live music instead of doing something else (clearly, she’s not spent time in Montreal as live music is one of those things people in the city do best). But of all things that comes through, there is no stopping her. As she sings in All These Cats — “I’m gonna continue on my mission.” Seems like she can count on Montreal to have her back.