Is there such a thing as a balladeer laureate of Canada? There should be and Gordon Lightfoot should be it.
Over twentysomething years, the man's been a faithful chronicler of our tribe, a merciful scribe of our moments both large and grand, personal and national. Something of a prophet too; when he sang last night of "a time when the railroads did not run," it was sobering and scary to think that for many Canadians that time has come again. But the mood in front of 2,200 fans was warm and celebretory, in keeping with a gig at which the man's grandchildren Johnny and Amber, were in the front row.
A multiple stand at Massey Hall is an annual tradition with Lightfoot, and fans who'd seen a number of them opined that last night's set was one of the better ones, mixing songs from his first album with tunes so fresh they haven't been recorded yet. All delivered in his finely cured bourbon of a voice, although he no longer imbibes.
Ears accustomed to high decibel concerts thought the vocal mix was short on volume. This was only Lightfoot's way of making sure attention was paid to every nuance of tunes like "A Lesson In Love" and "A Winter's Night With You." The latter was a microcosm of the Lightfoot style; a gorgeous melody with only the tastiest of frills, and those peacefully underplayed.
For a fan of guitar, this concert was a workshop on understated playing. While it was an easy night at the office for the rhthym section, it was up to keysman Mike Heatherton and lead guitarist Terry Clemens to flesh out the often gaunt skeletons of Lightfoot tunes. Clemens coaxed the most haunting sounds out of his Les Paul, moaning like an unquiet ghost at one moment, getting down 'n' swampy with the aid of a well-deployed whammy bar on the rocky "Fading Away."
When it comes to grit and commitment, this man has it. His remarks regarding a particular song, "I only do this one for the challenge," could stand as a fine motto for this singular man, who does it again tonight and tomorrow, winding up his Massey Hall stand next weekend.
- Lenny Stoute - Toronto Star