WIND STILL FILLS LIGHTFOOT'S SAILS
MUSIC CRITIC - Toronto Star
A visitor to this city might
have guessed that the long line forming south on Yonge from Shuter last
night had something to do with the eager anticipation for the opening
of the final instalment of the Star Wars saga.
Well, the "star" part of that
equation was right.
Gordon Lightfoot, the
66-year-old Canadian folksinging great who has returned to performance
after a prolonged illness, was back where he belonged, playing the
first of four sold-out nights at Massey Hall.
"The centre of my universe as a
musician really is here," Lightfoot told a rapturous house that
included Adrienne Clarkson.
The Governor General, who the
previous day had welcomed the Queen to Saskatchewan, must have felt
that she was once again in the presence of royalty. Canadian royalty.
Taking the stage to a standing
ovation, Lightfoot apologized for being late, even though his arrival
10 minutes after the show's scheduled start had to count as the most
punctual concert appearance this side of Bob Dylan.
Lightfoot's Massey Hall
residencies — the first of which took place in 1967 — are the stuff of
local legend. And the sense of occasion was palpable, if slightly
tinged with nervous tension. The singer, backed by four accompanists,
rendered any lingering fears to rest with an unstinting two-hour
performance, broken by a 20-minute intermission, that ran to nearly 30
True, the voice is not as strong
as it was. Returning for the first of two encores, Lightfoot even joked
about whether he had the wind to get through his poetic evocation of
the national dream, "Canadian Railroad Trilogy." The audience was
poised to help him along, but it wasn't necessary.
Much of the preceding set was
bathed in a warm, intimate glow. From opener "Spanish Moss" on, the
approach was understated and low-key, the kind of performance you might
give for friends and family in the kitchen — if, that is, your kitchen
featured stained-glass windows and a very high ceiling.
Fans responded most
enthusiastically to favourites such as "Cotton Jenny," "If You Could
Read My Mind," "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," "Beautiful" and
"Sundown," but also welcomed the inclusion of selections from last
year's Harmony. "Couchiching," a song from that album filled with
references to Lightfoot's hometown of Orillia, was prefaced by an
anecdote about his 19-month hospitalization after suffering an
abdominal aneurysm in 2002.
"I got to play it just once," he
said, recalling when he last performed the song live. "And the next day
I wasn't going anywhere."
And now, miraculously, he has
AND HIS BARITONE ARE THIN, BUT HE'S BACK
By JAMES ADAMS - Globe
Thursday, May 19, 2005
A famous critic once described jazz as "the sound of surprise." There
wasn't much jazz at Massey Hall last night (the chord changes in
Beautiful notwithstanding) or much surprise. But there was much
pleasure and not a little pathos as Gordon Lightfoot once again trod
upon the hall's fabled boards as he has so famously done, off and on,
for the last 38 years.
Mr. Lightfoot, in fact, hasn't graced the grand old lady of Shuter
Street since May of 2001. He was last scheduled to play a series of
dates there in the fall of 2002, but then an abdominal aneurysm that
September put him seriously out of commission. For the next 19 months
and 22 days, fans wondered if Canada's most famous troubadour would
survive the three operations he eventually had, and if he did survive,
would he be able to perform again.
The answer came in the form of 27 songs expertly played over more than
two hours before an adoring crowd of about 2,700. At 66, Gord is back
-- a little short of wind, his baritone thin on the top end, his body
almost spookily thin, and the face carved into stark planes, but back
Indeed, it took a while last night for one to sense that -- 14 songs
and one intermission, to be precise -- but once Mr. Lightfoot and his
veteran four-piece band appeared for the second set, all seemed right
between performer and audience.
Of course, there was nothing radical about last night's concert. A
Lightfoot performance is nothing if not a celebration of the pleasures
of the predictable as Mr. Lightfoot and band -- bassist Rick Haynes
(who's been with him for 36 years), guitarist Terry Clements (35
years), drummer Barry Keane (29 years) and keyboardist Mike Heffernan
(at Mr. Lightfoot's right hand for 18 years) -- serve up one familiar
song after another, interspersed with material that at first seems
lesser-known songs then familiar all the same.
Unsurprisingly, the mostly older audience (at intermission, I stood in
line, a long, long line, to the men's washroom with a Lightfoot
acquaintance from New York who remarked that he should have worn
Depends) was on Mr. Lightfoot's side right from the moment he joined
his bandmates on stage around 8:10 p.m. "Sorry I'm late," he joked as
the crowd, which included Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and John
Ralston Saul, responded with a standing ovation of whoops, whistles and
handclaps that lasted more than two minutes.
The first set, a mixture of gems (Cotton Jenny, Minstrel of the Dawn,
Sundown) and clunkers (including a relatively new song, Couchiching,
from last year's Harmony CD that is better left forgotten or else sold
as a jingle for the Orillia Chamber of Commerce), seemed rather
strained and tentative as all concerned tried to find their bearings
and adjust their expectations.
But a sense of both relaxation and purposefulness eventually settled on
both Mr. Lightfoot and his associates, something especially evident in
their assaying of classics such as If You Could Read My Mind, A Painter
Passing Through, Ghost of Cape Horn, Baby Step Back and Beautiful.
Here lines such as, "And after all is said and done/is there no
rainbow's end," and, "To be just once again/With you," carried an added
poignancy and greater intimations of mortality as a result of Mr.
Lightfoot's tribulations of recent years.
Of course, the big question on most of the audience's mind was, would
he do Canadian Railroad Trilogy, perhaps his most epic and most
challenging (at least in terms of duration) song? Well, he did, as the
first of what were two encores (the last was another chestnut, Bitter
Green). It was pretty good, if strained in the later going. In fact,
the drama here was found less in the grandiose lyrics and more in the
audience's prayers that the singer would get through the composition
more or less intact.
Which he did. Because Mr. Lightfoot clearly felt the love last night.
There's nothing, it seems, like a near-death experience to deepen one's
appreciation of old friendships, sturdy craftsmanship and the grace of