Long I've been a lover of Gordon Lightfoot music. About every two years I closely watch the Sunday entertainment sections of the dailies, longing for an announcement of Lightfoot's return to the Twin Cities.
Six weeks ago ads announcing April 29-30 "25th Anniversary" concerts in St. Paul prompted this fan of the Canadian troubadour to immediately seek tickets. Sunday night my wife, Nancy, and I were among 1,700 mostly middle-agers in the sold-out audience at the College of St. Catherine who listened to Lightfoot's 31-selection concert.
Lightfoot's visit was like replaying old Gord's records. Five songs which he said were his favorites, according to a St. Paul Pioneer Press preview Friday, were all performed: "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," "Early Morning Rain," "If You Could Read My Mind," "Canadian Railroad Trilogy," "Don Quixote." Those all could be termed "early Lightfoot" or his "greatest hits" from the Sixties and Seventies.
Interestingly, his top commercial success, "Sundown," which was a number one-hit single in 1974, isn't near the top of Lightfoot's personal preferences. But it certainly was among the tunes performed in O'Shaughnessy Auditorium which drew the most applause from the Minnesota legion of Lightfoot fans.
The concert itself was a bit uneven--which even Lightfoot, now 56, had to admit. In the initial set, he started one song with the wrong opening lines. He caught himself reversing verses in "Edmund Fitzgerald." Towards the end of the second set, he quipped about the earlier flaws, "I hate to make mistakes and I made so many in my personal life." Lightfoot's reference to failed romances and past heavy drinking days was unmistakable. It was an interesting admission, both in the public confessional and also about that evening's performance. For an entertainer of Lightfoot's stature, there are few secrets. And it's impossible to hide errors when you're standing on stage in the spotlight and almost everyone in the audience knows your songs.
And his are worth knowing both old and new!
The evening in St. Paul included vintage Lightfoot-"Carefree Highway," "Cotton Jenny," "Pony Man" and "Baby Step Back." It opened with "The House That You Live In" and closed two and a half hours later with "Old Dan's Records." Six of the ten songs on Lightfoot's latest CD, the 1993 release "Waiting For You," were performed. (Only two of Sunday's repertoire was from the 1986 "East of Midnight" album, the previous cutting.) There was one interesting juxtaposition of the college campus name and a line from the Bob Dylan-written "Ring Them Bells" (from the '93 collection). "Ring them bells, St. Catherine, from the top of the roof," Lightfoot emphasized from the Dylan lyrics.
Lightfoot himself continues concert tours and song-writing, according to Ann Leibold of his Early Morning Productions based in Toronto. I spoke with her Tuesday, trying to identify two songs from Sunday's menu I didn't know. One was "Farewell, Nova Scotia," an Ian and Sylvia piece which Lightfoot has not actually recorded but occasionally plays in concert, Leibold said. It was chosen to conclude the first set. The second, "Much to My Surprise," is a new Lightfoot creation. It was sung in the second set, without introduction. Will it be part of a new album? I quizzed my contact in Lightfoot's headquarters.
"There's nothing scheduled," Leibold said. "It's something he's working on and he's written a few things. But he's not sure there's enough there for album standards."
And the success of "Waiting for You"? (One always wonders if Lightfoot will ever soar to the commercial heights of his earlier days.) Timing, Leibold suggested, has much to do with success. No hit singles or videos resulted from Lightfoot's latest CD, though it was received with critical acclaim. Had it been issued now two years after its initial appearance, Leibold observed, "Waiting For You" might have given Lightfoot a place in the current vogue she called "adult alternative" radio. Still his place in music history can't be taken lightly. It comes from the cumulative effort of songs sung Sunday (and others like "Cold on the Shoulder" and "Rainy Day People" which were not included). And there's nothing better than being in person for Lightfoot re-telling the story in song of the November 1975 Lake Superior shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Five times in concerts dating back to 1987 have I heard the haunting melody and the poetic rendition of the death of 29 Great Lakes sailors.
It's this songwriter at his best. You not only see the capsized ship; you also feel the wind, the waves and the presence of tragedy. An in-person rendition of "Edmund Fitzgerald" is incredibly touching to one's emotions-especially for a Minnesotan who was born in Duluth and frequently visits the Lake Superior shoreline.
Sunday's repeat experience in a Lightfoot audience is why I'll be watching the entertainment section ads in a year or two.