Lightfoot! It's so good to have you back.
We need you around here in the spring, friend, like we need to see the boats sail again. Gordon Lightfoot's nearly annual appearances at this time of year are small things, very temporary human things. But for some of us they're one of the elements that breathes sweetness into our spring, the kind of sweetness never known by all those dingalings in the permanent sunshine places.
A rejuvenated Gordon Lightfoot gave his best concert in years Saturday night at the Duluth Auditorium.
The Canadian singer has had mean times in recent years. The records haven't been selling. The drinking was becoming a problem in concert - there was a listlessness, a puffiness around the eyes and in the music.
Today, the man has dried out. The surplus weight is gone and he's even developed a muscular upper body (he's taken to lifting weights). He's also upgraded his stage appearance. Gone are the baggy, faded jeans with the rose patch. On Saturday he walked out in cream cowboy boots, black slacks and shirt, a red velvet waistcoat - Gordon, you hound - and a red bowtie.
Of course, appearences don't necessarily matter. But they were indicative of his new attitude. He was positively frisky - the joker of old, but with new energy to the playfulness. And with a focus to his gaze that had been missing in recent years.
The voice shows all of the singer's 46 years, in ways. The richness of the lower register is gone forever and there's an at times nasal quality up high. And he still mixes up a lyric here and there. But the warmth radiates, still.
He did 24 songs, one of which was a medley of ballads so fine - "All The Lovely Ladies," "Christian Island (Georgian Bay)" and "Don Quixote" - that it was painful to bear hearing abbreviated versions.
The first set went heavy on recent material of the "Dream Street Rose," Shadows" and "Salute" era. He threw in good older ones like "The House You Live In," "Sundown" and "Carefree Highway" and one classic - the demanding " The Last Time I Saw Her." In a previous concert here he had attempted it and booted it completely. This reading was on the mark.
Then the audience of 1590 had to sit through half an hour or so of his upbeat rock material - not totally shock rock, but simply typical rock (Barry Keane is just not a rock drummer). Lightfoot seemed to realize where the crowd's sentiments were, asking "please bear with us... We like this stuff."
The second set was as moving as any this reviewer has seen in nearly a decade of Lightfoot concerts. He and lead guitarist Terry Clements worked wonderfully together on the acoustic masterpieces "If You Could Read My Mind" and "Pussywillows, Cattails." The biggie, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," drew a thundering ovation.
The five-piece band was tight all the way through. The lighting was for most part punctual, although one wonders if the color spots were bright enough for those in the back seats.
There were two standing ovations. Lightfoot responded with "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" and a shortened "I'm Not Supposed to Care."