In Toronto, Gordon Lightfoot could do 20 minutes of Gregorian chants and still get a standing ovation. He got one as expected Monday night at Massey Hall where he opened a week's worth of performances but he earned it all the way. More than two dozen songs in two sets and not a turkey in the flock.
But then that's always been Lightfoot's style, vast quantity matched by quality. The man doesn't rest on his laurels. He avoided old chestnuts like Early Morning Rain, For Loving Me and I'm Not Saying, songs he used to knock them down with back in the old days in the Riverboat.
were some old numbers, "All
right, here it comes," he announced before swinging into Canadian
Trilogy and he hauled Pussywillows, Cat-Tails out of the war chest for
the first time in about
four years, he said.
But for the most part, the concert was second generation Lightfoot. But then, it had to be. The man has written so many good new songs that it would be a waste to keep going over the old stuff. Songs like Bend In The Water, Bells Of The Evening, Now And Then, Rainy Day People, Cherokee Bend, A Tree Too Weak To Stand and Cold On The Shoulder, all from his new album, all matched or exceeded the high standards Lightfoot established for himself in the past. Tomorrow's standards today, you might say.
There even seem to be second generation Lightfoot fans, people so unacquainted with Trilogy that they applauded half way through, not realizing there was more to come. For them, Lightfoot's old stuff would be Sundown and If You Could Read My Mind, songs that are really middle period Lightfoot.
Actually it's difficult, if not downright arbitrary to try to divide his work into sections. Thematic lines can be traced all the way through his development with ease - loneliness, travel, love lost and found - all occur again and again. Yet Lightfoot is not repititious. His style simply becomes more sophisticated and complex as he works his variations.
The most important underlying theme in Lightfoot's work as a writer is faith. It's occasionally religious (Christian Island, Too Late For Praying), sometimes it involves women (Mother Of A Miner's Child) but it is usually expressed in terms of human dignity.
It's pretty hard to stand up on stage and sing about dignity these nowadays. It's almost embarrassing. In times past Lightfoot has seemed in performance to be defensive about it and it showed in an arrogant stage presence that masked his nervousness.
Last night that nervousness was gone. Lightfoot has mellowed now that he has finally received the international recognition he has so long deserved. On stage he was relaxed and occasionally jocular, joking gently with the audience and making fun of an old Jim Reeves song.
Musically Lightfoot appeared well armed. Terry Clements and Red Shea played lead guitars while Pee Wee Charles added pedal steel and Richard Haynes filled in the bottom line on bass. They were a tight, road-hardened crew and the sound they produced was both intricate and accomplished.
The four of them sat in a semi-circle around Lightfoot, obviously enjoying the music themselves. Two vases of roses decorated amplifiers behind Lightfoot and added to the relaxed atmosphere.
He introduced the second encore with the comment, "What a perfect closing." The song was Wherfore And Why, this morning/something inside of me/told me this would be my day. How right, he was.