There is a stolid quality about the music of Gordon Lightfoot that is a distinctively Canadian trait. It may not register with you immediately, but it is pervasive in it's influence.
It also explains why 1,500 people showed up for Lightfoot's Hamilton Place concert last night, even though the Orillia native hasn't registered a sizeable hit on the pop charts in more than 15 years.
Whether it's your grandmother requesting you to sing Early Morning Rain for her when you're 7 years old, or your sister requesting the song Beautiful for her wedding, or the parking lot attendant in Nashville who has all of his recordings (some in duplicate), Lightfoot's music cuts across a broad spectrum of people's lives.
And like so many other things in life, his music hits home when you are away from home. When my sister moved to New Zealand, for example, one of the things she requested to be sent over during her first year away was a collection of Lightfoot's music. To her, it was a touchstone to the country she had left behind.
While the 59 year old performer may not be the most glamorous performer, he has built a Canadian Shield-size body of work that consistently connects to the inner compass of several generations of listeners, either straight from the source or through the interpretations of others.
Such songs as Sundown, The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, and Oh Linda are timeless pieces. Even if younger listeners get tired of hearing the original versions for the umpteenth time on the parents' choice of radio stations, those songs prove durable when they pop up in the set lists of Ron Sexsmith, the Rheostatics, and Hamilton's Junkhouse. Last night's audience was probably more familiar with the original versions of the aforementioned songs. The average age was late 40's.
Lightfoot performed two one-hour sets which effectively condensed 19 albums' worth of material, including songs taken from his latest album A Painter Passing Through. This album was recorded at Hamilton's Grant Avenue Studio which Lightfoot duly acknowledged.
The singer walked onto the stage, nodded to the audience and played two songs before speaking to them.
The lean figure of the singer looked a bit weathered around the edges, and sounded a bit thin in his high-register notes, but overall it was a smooth, professional presentation. As was to be expected.
During the two sets Lightfoot artfully balanced familiar radio staples with lesser known works such as the Watchman song from the Sundown album. The singer dedicated the song Big Blue to one Max, explaining to the audience that he didn't do it last time he was here and he could have. He proceeded to play the song, an opus to a long-lived blue whale.
Lightfoot was backed up by his regular four-piece band and the sound quality was clear and crisp. Audience requests came hot and heavy and Lightfoot's response to them all was the same: "coming up." It got to the point where after another verbal request was made, another part of the audience would give Lightfoot's response for him.
The stage setup was austere. There was no fancy gimmicks, just the audience, Lightfoot and the music.