Wow. On record, the slender Canadian comes across as a fairly conventional country singer, lamenting her achy breaky heart (“Dying of Another Broken Heart”) and her own dirty deception (“Little Lie”). It’s not material designed – unlike Bonnie Prince Billy and Jim White – to scare the horses.
However, in the flesh Lindi Ortega is electrifying. Armed with a burgundy-coloured guitar and fetching cherry-red cowboy boots, she sounds like a giddy mix of Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and a more upbeat Chris Isaak. Her supremely assured performance is anything but conventional, embracing as it does her “dubious” drug-taking pals, a sublime Band of Skulls cover and some endearing non sequiters: “I feel like Elaine in Seinfeld.” And, most crucially of all, her voice is a truly magnificent instrument.
The Johnny Cash-loving Ortega had been kicking around Toronto’s independent music scene for over a decade before releasing her first studio album, the acclaimed Little Red Boots, last year. It quickly earned her slots on Jay Leno and Jools Holland’s shows as backing for Brandon flowers, plus a world tour.
“Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of broken hearts in my life, so after this touring’s over hopefully I’ll find a nice man,” she teases the intimate audience before tearing into “Dying of Another Broken Heart”, and you don’t imagine Ortega, the daughter of a Mexican father and a mother from Northern Ireland, lacks for suitors. She’s occasionally hokey – “not every painter can be a Picasso, but it doesn’t mean they’re not good!” she informs us at one point – but then she hits us with her alternative leanings with an ode to drug-taking, “Little Bit High”. She follows this up with her “public service announcement” song “Use Me”, on which she exhorts “Don’t use marijuana, don’t use heroin… darlin use me... I'll get you high in all the right ways.” Yowzer.
Her perky four-piece band, The Wild Wranglers, are outstanding, but it’s Ortega’s solo efforts that are the most pulsating, showing off her vibrato voice on the aforementioned “Use Me” and performing a gorgeous rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Delia”.
This is a simply barnstorming performance with zero slack and plenty of highlights: the audience participation - throwing back Alan Partridge-style “a-has” - on Ortega’s signature tune “Little Red Boots”; a witty “I’m No Elvis Presley”; and, best and most surprising of all, a sensational cover of Band of Skulls’ “Fires”, on which Ortega spine-tinglingly implores that “we are just fire in the night”.
Before departing Ortega offers “a free hug, maybe two” for anyone who buys her CD later. A queue quickly forms…