"Now the thing that I call livin' is just being satisfied..."
When it comes to music, nothing is more satisfying to me than a Gordon Lightfoot performance. To hear the Canadian songwriter sing his memorable ballads "Sundown," "Early Morning Rain," "Carefree Highway" (the song quoted here) is a concert-hall experience that loyal Lightfoot fans eagerly await.
Lightfoot was back in Minneapolis Saturday and Sunday for State Theater appearances, returning after a 21/2-year absence to an area of America where his popularity has always been high. Lightfoot is nearing 59 and you might expect his exuberance and creativity to be waning.
But that was not what we discovered at Lightfoot's Sunday concert.
Instead he seemed anxious to play, eager to please if he could. He performed two 13-song sets, mixing the best of his early-and mid-life songs with pieces expected to be released on a new CD in the spring of 1998. Not since 1993 with his "Waiting for You" album has Lightfoot presented new material.
He raised expectations of that issuance by performing four songs, including what's expected as the title, "A Painter Passing Through." Lightfoot's lyrics seemed autobiographical: "I'm just a painter passing through in history." As a songwriter, he's recorded his personal history (loves experienced, loves lost)...and the chronicles of the past (life at sea, leaving for war, etc.).
He also provided previews of "Drifters" and "Boathouse" which the crowd welcomed. A fourth song, "Ring-Necked Loon," I found the weakest. The attempt to compare the carefree existence of the loon to life in the city did not work for me. Perhaps once I hear it more often, I'll change my mind.
But what worked magic for me as it has six times over the past decade in traveling to the Twin Cities for Lightfoot events were his renditions of his best work. The first set included "Triangle" (he gave the crowd a thumbs-up after its applause), "Sundown" and "Carefree Highway." His four-piece touring bandintact for such a long timewas clearly in tune. The last song before intermission was the unforgettable "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
This story, re-telling the tragedy of the 1975 shipwreck in Lake Superior, forever endures Lightfoot to Upper Midwesterners. No anniversary of the tragedy passes without radio stations playing his tribute to the 29 sailors who died when the "gales of November came early." In live concert, the lyrics ("The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead") match the eerie lead guitar work. It may not be my favorite Lightfoot work ("If You Could Read My Mind" which would come in the second set holds that spot for me). But "Fitzgerald" is a treasured moment of any Lightfoot appearancethe music makes you feel the wind, the water, the desperateness of the crew about to die at sea.
The second set Sunday provided a discovery, surprisingly, to someone who has been a Lightfoot devotee back to the early Seventies when Gord's first gold records were released. After another one of his best, "Rainy Day People," he introduced "Sit Down Young Stranger" by asking the crowd if they remembered the Tet offensive from the Vietnam War. I had not thought of the song as so poignantly portraying the futility of the human battleground:
"That war is not the answer, that young men should not die," sang Lightfoot, "Sit down young stranger, I'll wait for your reply. The answer is not easy, for souls are not reborn. To wear the crown of peace, you must wear the crown of thorns."
Sunday's second half also included one of his best songs about the sea ("Ghosts of Cape Horn") and two more rock-like songs he called "toe-tappers" ("Blackberry Wine" and a personal favorite of mine, "Baby Step Back"). He closed the memorable evening of old songs and new verses with another requisite, "Cold on the Shoulder."
Indeed, to again quote the troubadour from "Carefree Highway," Lightfoot in song and his legion in the audience were musically...
"Turnin' back the pages to the times that I love best."
Monticello Times & Shopper - by Donald Q. Smith