When it comes to country music, I’ve been pretty skeptical of its quality. I grew up in rural-ish Maryland. It was the kind of place that lent itself to frequent broadcasts regarding sexy tractors and the notion that Chris Gaines and Garth Brooks were two different people. There are only so many times you can hear about Toby Keith’s post 9-11 plan to put his foot up a terrorist’s butt for America before you just have to shut out the noise. Over the years though, technology that isn’t local radio has enlightened me and shown me the way of country music that isn’t all blue collar exploitation and veiled racism. In fact, some of it is really fucking good. Like “Drunk on a Plane“… that song is really something special. Another and far superior example being Lindi Ortega. Some years ago, I caught her out-performing Social Distortion and have made every effort to keep up since.
Evidently I’ve been doing a terrible job at it because she’s relocated from Toronto, to Nashville, and then on to Calgary in addition to releasing three albums without me noticing. The latest being what she and her crew were out in support of: Liberty. This came out about a week before the show, so I didn’t have much notice. But, what I heard had me excited to see what Lindi was up to since last we met. The idea of a two band bill at a venue right off the bus line closest to where I live was just the loveliest icing on the cake.
Along for the ride was fellow Nashvillian? Nashvillain? Nashvillite? Hugh Masterson. Masterson just put out his first release, Lost and Found, which was what most of his set pulled from. It didn’t take long for me to be won over by his fun and catchy approach to folk-country. Stories about not being able to say “mother-fucker” at the Shi-tty Barn and fart jokes peppered throughout livened the evening and were right up my alley. In addition to all of this, there is another Hugh Masterson who lives in Chicago and is a fan of his country counterpart. It was a first-rate first act and further evidence that country doesn’t have to be awful.
One of the most appealing aspects of Lindi Ortega is her willingness to embrace the darker aspects of life. Her stage presence is haunting, but inviting. It’s like going to a funeral, but getting a high-five from a ghost. Ortega’s music carries you on a journey through the gloom with an assurance that through it all, there will be light on the other side. I was captivated from the opening chords of “Dying of Another Broken Heart” to the closing notes of “The Day You Die”.
Like most artists touring on a new album, Liberty was the primary focus of her set, but there was plenty of love shown across her discography. Having been introduced to Ortega through her album about her signature boots, I was hoping to hear my favorite song on the subject, but it was not to be. She did however pay homage to her Mexican heritage with a captivating performance of “Gracias a la Vida”. She claims her Spanish isn’t the best, but as someone whoss primary source of the language is kitchen curse words, I am in no place to judge.
It’s not that often that an artist and I agree on the quality of the lighting, but when Lindi announced that whoever was in charge of it that night was on point, I was right there with her. Every time I’ve taken pictures at a Lindi Ortega show, it’s my favorite time since the last time I covered one of her shows. This night was no exception. Her performances exude not just through her vocals and instrumentation, but her dramatic facial expressions and poignant body language. I couldn’t have asked for better lighting to capture it all in. All too often, it can be super easy to forget how much the right colors and intensity can affect a show and this was a welcome reminder.
I saw numerous people who’s Social D shirts and other leather clad garb that night that suggested a punk lineage. If I had to guess, they were fortunate enough to catch Lindi the same night I did and have since been hooked as well. It’s not surprising to see punks at the country show, or at least this one. The lyrical subject matter of economic hardships and emotional struggles is right in line with the punk ethos. It’s that same drive for an honest connection that continues to draw me towards checking out more of the twangy side of music. Lindi Ortega continues to solidify her place in the world of Nashville country music and certainly reminded me on how much I’ve been missing out. If spending the night in the grave yard trying to summon the ghosts of Hank Williams while singing Nancy Sinatra songs sounds like something you’d be into, then Lindi Ortega will be right up your alley.