Tamara Lindeman doesn’t speak on stage often but when she does it’s like a dam breaking. “I have a lot of songs about not being heard,” she says towards the end of the show. With her bobbed hair and buttoned-up black leather frock coat, the Canadian singer-songwriter looks like a detective from a French movie. “And then I put out this record and suddenly I’m holding a microphone in front of hundreds of people and I feel very heard. It’s been one of the most beautiful experiences of my lifetime.” The implication is that if she’d had the acclaim she has now, she might not have written those songs. A lot of great pop music stems from frustration and urgency.
This much-delayed show is the Weather Station’s first London appearance since the release, a year ago, of Ignorance: her fifth album and the first to get plaudits across the board. There are times when an artist plays almost all of their new record, including bonus tracks, and you sigh. Throw us a bone. Then there are times when that record is such a thrilling and unanticipated moonshot that you can’t get enough of it.
Ignorance isn’t Lindeman’s latest album. She has just released How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars, a companion piece, or coda, consisting of delicate piano ballads. But both sets of songs emerged from the same emotionally gruelling period of fully confronting her sadness and anxiety about the climate crisis. They are, she says, about “feeling too much and feeling too darkly”. The fragility of the later record feels apt but what makes Ignorance such a triumph is the contrast between the gravity of the theme and the vivacity of the music, jumping from jazz to disco to motorik soft rock. Separated and Tried to Tell You suggest Fleetwood Mac if they were worrying about rising sea levels rather than divorce. You just don’t get many toe-tappers about the end of the world.
Ignorance is the first great album about the climate crisis because it is human-sized rather than didactic. Her subject is climate grief, that peculiar pre-mourning for things not yet lost. If you’re not paying attention, they might sound like breakup songs. “Some days there might be nothing you encounter / To stand behind the fragile idea that anything matters,” she sings devastatingly on Tried to Tell You. Lindeman pulls into focus a subject that is existentially, brain-breakingly vast by finding revelations in fleeting moments: a sunset, a bird in flight, a conversation, “the cold, metallic scent of snow”. As she sings on her breakthrough song (and set-closer), 2017’s country-rock memoir Thirty: “I noticed fucking everything.”
Bringing such a rich and diverse album to the stage with her five-person band is no small achievement. Drummer Evan Cartwright is the engine: sleek and aerodynamic on Atlantic, slithery and ominous on Robber, which opens like it’s slowly crawling out of a marsh. Lindeman likes to whip up a tempest, especially when Karen Ng is going full-tilt on the clarinet sax, then bring it to a breathtakingly abrupt stop. Her voice is a marvel, dancing between a wry, conversational lower register and a cloud-busting soprano, never more spine-tinglingly than on Better Now, which has the soaring, swooping giddiness of Kate Bush. “I saw the mountain, I saw it everywhere,” she cries, as the drums tumble in like an avalanche. On the surging new wave of Parking Lot, her most purely undeniable pop song, she sounds as if she’s telling a story from the seat of a speeding car. It can feel a bit cheap comparing a female Canadian singer-songwriter to Joni Mitchell, but there is that same precision of observation and delivery: a particular way of reading the world.
Lindeman was an actor through her teens before turning to music – Canadian television viewers knew her as the star of high-school fantasy Guinevere Jones – but she’s not a theatrical performer. There’s an earnest, eyes-closed commitment to the requirements of each song and an endearing humility towards band and audience. Saying that you’re happy to be here is a pro forma routine but we’re still in that early post-Covid phase when the gratitude feels supercharged. “We can’t believe we’re here in any shape or form,” she says with credible amazement.
There are bigger venues in the Weather Station’s future but there’s something precious about the hugger-mugger intimacy of this show and the attentive hush that greets the softer ballads, especially as Lindeman is singing about the struggle to communicate important things. People are finally listening.