Phoenix, AZ
Symphony Hall - June 25, 1997

Folk music fans took a step back in time Wednesday night at Phoenix Symphony Hall, back to the time when women's long flowing hair came softly undone, when men's beards and moustaches were dark, not gray, and when newspaper reporters like me didn't have to wear bifocals to see the stage when they reviewed a show.  It was when the world was filled with hope and purpose, when the eyes sparkled and the steps had more bounce, and when the lyrics were not as filled with self pity and loathing as some are today, but with hope, promise and love---with a certain playful naivete, yet real at the same time.  Thankfully, Canadian minstrel Gordon Lightfoot is still around to take us there. 

The 58-year-old's voice is not as consistently clear, nor does he have the range he once did in the coffee houses north of the border, and during the days of magic when it filled the air in Toronto's Massey Hall for that Sunday Concert in 1969.  Yet, we still can enjoy that voice which is in its autumn. 

Dressed, Johnny Cash-like, all in black, Lightfoot strolled on to the stage with a tribute to one of his loves called "14-Karat Gold" and followed it up with "In My Fashion", which is perhaps a self-anthem, which includes the words "In my fashion I have been a good man.  I have loved and been loved in return.  And, ever after, I will be remembered, in my fashion, in my way."  He said his 87-year-old mother told him to sing the remember-your-roots song "The House You Live In." 

With a forest backdrop, he took us on a walk through the woods and we could imagine the twigs crackling under our feet.  And we gazed into the clear night sky at the moon with "Sea Of Tranquility."  Next came the early 1970's Viet Nam era "Don Quixote" from the album of the same name, and another cut of the revitalization of one's spirit which came on a boat ride to "Christian Island, Georgian Bay." 

The latter song included some work from band member Terry Clements, who made his guitar sound like a mandolin.  Clements remains one of the most underrated quality guitarists anywhere.  The other three band members provided solid assistance.  Keyboardist Mike Heffernan, percussionist Barry Keane, and Lightfoot's longtime, faithful sidekick on bass, Rick Haynes. 

The lighting also fit the song moods. The green forest I spoke of earlier, the blue spotlights on Lightfoot's tribute to the whale called "Ode To Big Blue", the red passion of the back-door rendezvous in "Sundown," and Old Man Winter's white, icy fingers of death in a grip on the Edmund Fitzgerald in "Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald." 

Lightfoot included his Arizona song called "Carefree Highway" and one new effort about a Canadian bird called "Ringneck Loon," which perhaps could use a little more polish.  Lovers got a little closer with "Shadows" and that ended the first of the two one-hour sets. 

In the second set, Lightfoot emerged wearing a bright print shirt, sat down and did an acoustic solo with "Sit Down Young Stranger," the title of a 1970 album that later was changed to capitalize on what became his signature song, "If You Could Read My Mind."  He did that one in the show later. 

It is unfortunate that Lightfoot does not sing more of his 1960s and early '70s work such as "Pussywillows, Cattails," "The Last Time I Saw Her," "Something Very Special," and "If I Could."  To me, it is much better than his later work, although one of the songs he performed called "Restless" from his most recent album in 1993, called "Waiting For You" is reminiscent of some of those earlier days.  Always a staple is "Canadian Railroad Trilogy", which was written 30 years ago to celebrate his country's birth. 

For his encore, Lightfoot thankfully decided to stay away from his encore of past shows, Leroy Van Dyke's "The Auctioneer" which has become like beating a dead horse.  Instead he gave us a more simple song called "Cold On The Shoulder." 

It is not known if Lightfoot will pass our way again.  One hopes that he will.  At least we can take a step back, smile and remember. 

by Don Ketchum - Arizona Republic