In an era when Canadian popular music means Glass Tiger and Honeymoon Suite, Gordon Lightfoot seems like an anachronism. A relic of another age. And he is. But he is also one of the few genuine Canadian musical legends we have. And a live and kicking legend at that, as his rousing show at Theatre St. Denis last night emphasized.
The most striking thing was the voice. It still has a strength and confidence that is remarkable after 25 years on the road. Lightfoot energetically led his five-piece band through a retrospective of his entire career, playing everything from old favorites to tracks off last year's East Of Midnight.
It became a familiar routine by the end of two sets. He would strum a few chords on his guitar and then begin singing. As soon as he sung the first line, the hall would usually erupt in applause in recognition of another Lightfoot standard. There was something to please all the Lightfoot afficionados: from Alberta Bound to If You Could Read My Mind to his biggest seller ever, the number one gold single, Sundown.
But the mostly 25 to 40 year old crowd was on his side from the word go. There was lots of affectionate hollering, usually addressing Canada'a best known singer-songwriter on a first name basis. Lightfoot may not churn out hit records the way he used to a decade ago but his loyal followers don't seem to care one bit. It was a really warm audience who obviously felt that it had been too many years since they last got together with Gord.
The band provided a straight-forward country mood for the proceedings but they kept quietly in the background for the most part. The unequivocal centre of attention was Lightfoot's rhythmic acoustic guitar and his trademark dry vocal delivery.
The only exception to this sparse musical landscape was also the most embarrassing moment of the evening. Lightfoot sang Anything For Love, the song he wrote with mega-producer David Foster for East Of Midnight, and his band sat back as he sang along with a pre-taped recording complete with a female chorus and strings. But was Lightfoot was cool enough to sheepishly apologize for having to sing along with a "TV backing track." "But I didn't lip-sync," he was quick to add.
But this moment of schmaltzy, synthy Hollywood was completely out of place in a concert that was a testament to Lightfoot's faithfulness to his folk roots. The kid from Orillia began writing his own folk, country songs in the early 60's - apparently inspired by early Dylan - and he's never looked back since. Last night's capsule history of a quarter century of Lightfoot music showed that this is one performer who never jumped on any bandwagons.
All the songs performed - the Foster fiasco aside - reflected the same combination of classic folk structure, a country feel, and, often enough, strong pop tunes. These elements are tied together by Lightfoot's distinctive vocals and personal lyrics, that subtly never let you forget that these are Canadian songs.
There was no dry ice, no pyrotechnics, hardly any action on stage, in fact. But Lightfoot's concert packed more of an emotional punch than most of his younger Canadian colleagues could hope for with tons more equipment. And that's not bad for a singer who released his first album 22 years ago.
Brendan Kelly - Montreal Gazette