Weston Recital Hall - February 4, 2010
SONGWRITER'S HALL OF FAME "IF YOU COULD
READ MY MIND"
STEVENSON - QMI Agency
TORONTO - A master class in
songwriting was offered up by two of the greatest Gords our country has
arguably ever offered up - folk icon Gordon Lightfoot and Tragically
Hip rocker Gord Downie - on Thursday night at the George Weston Recital
Hall. The occasion was the
inaugural concert in a new six-part series, If You Could Read My Mind,
named for Lightfoot's 1970 breakthrough song.
Being put on by the Canadian
Songwriters' Hall of Fame, the brilliant idea - one that was long
overdue - was to pair up two artists to perform stripped-down versions
of some of their work and discuss their craft in an intimate setting.
Backed by his two longtime
bandmates, Terry Clemente on acoustic guitar and Rick Haynes on bass,
Lightfoot trotted out Rainy Day People, Shadows, If You Could Read My
Mind and Let It Ride over the course of two hours and plenty of
Downie, wearing a hat and
glasses and seated and strumming an acoustic guitar on his own, dipped
into The Hip's Morning Moon and Bobcaygeon, his older solo track,
Willow Logic, and a brand new song, (The) Hard Canadian, from his
upcoming third solo album due in May.
songwriter and East Coast folkie Catherine MacLellan, the talented
daughter of another Canadian songwriting legend, Gene MacLellan
(Snowbird, Put Your Hand In The Hand), performed three songs, including
Lightfoot's I'll Be Alright while he sat a few feet away. "I got really high and listened to Gordon
Lightfoot albums for 12 hours, " she joked of her preparation.
Still, the small theatre setting
was perfect for the animated, funny, revelatory and - at times -
touching discussion between the two men and host Laurie Brown.
It was hard not to notice
Downie's admiration of the 71-year-old Lightfoot - whose "austerity and
economy of words" he praised - as The Hip's lead singer got downright
emotional early in the show which was being taped for later broadcast
on CBC Radio 2. At first he
joked about his obsession when Brown asked the two men what they
primarily thought of themselves as - a songwriter, an entertainer,
etc.. "I think of myself of
Gordon Lightfoot," deadpanned Downie, who would continue the yuks for
the duration of the night.
And when Downie went to perform
his first song, his nerves and emotions got the better of him. "That was a wrestling match Gord," said
Downie to Lightfoot, touching his knee, afterwards. "But I won. I love
being here but it's making me crazy. I promised myself I wouldn't cry."
"It didn't take long,"
Lightfoot goodnaturedly ribbed back.
Downie was also asked, via an
audience question, about which artist's shoes he'd most like to walk
in, and he pointed to Lightfoot's snazzy white ankle boots: "Quite
literally, I want those shoes."
As the show wound Downie said to
Lightfoot: "Until tonight, I only really knew you from the radio. A
10-year-old kid listening to Sundown. It was like a secret from you to
me. Thanks for being a great teacher."
Otherwise, the Orillia, Ont-born
Lightfoot said he first began writing songs in Grade 12 - his first
ever was a novelty tune called The Hula Hoop Song which was inspired by
a Life magazine cover - and was inspired more seriously later by Dylan
but admitted that "recording was like going to the dentist." He said he still has a technical rehearsal
with his band every Friday to keep his guitar skills up. When Downie asked Lightfoot about dealing
with writer's block, the onetime drinker didn't miss a beat: "Alcohol."
Downie, who hails from Kingston,
Ont., couldn't remember the first tune he wrote but said he first sang
at a house party - The Doors' opus The End of all things - "trying to
infuse it with 15-year-old angst." Later, he recalled, he and his Hip
bandmates hung out at The Prince George Hotel catching travelling blues
legends like John Lee Hooker in concert but Downie admitted he didn't
learn to play the acoustic guitar until he was twenty.
Both men agreed their
songwriting had been hugely inspired by nature over the years, helping
to forge the Canadian identity, with Lightfoot revealing he went on
massive canoe trips in Northern Ontario and Quebec, sometimes a month
at a time.
The only problem - and it's a
good one to have - the CSHF now faces is how to make the next five
concerts as entertaining as Thursday night's premiere deluxe edition.
Lightfoot and Downie's natural
chemistry set the bar high. The
only minor suggested change to the format is that a collaboration
between the two men would have been fun to hear or even their versions
of each others songs.