Los Angeles, CA

Greek Theatre - June 24, 1999

Band: Gordon Lightfoot, Terry Clements, Mike Heffernan, Rick Haynes, Barry Keane.

"Work through the repertoire here", said Gordon Lightfoot as he began his performance at the Greek Theater Thursday. As always, nothing else would be necessary. No opening act. No effusive showbiz
patter. No special effects. Just a Canadian troubadour who has stayed with the same band over the years while compiling one of the deepest song catalogs in the business.

Lightfoot’s place in the scheme of 20th century pop and folk music received a big boost with the release this month of the handsome Gordon Lightfoot Songbook, a four-CD box set from Rhino/Warner Archives. Those who have overlooked Lightfoot, now 60, should sample any portion of this box, for they will be jolted by the emotional range and quality of his songs over more than 35 years. His output has decreased since the mid-1980s, yet the quality remains amazingly consistent.

What proved most astonishing was that some of the best, most moving songs of the night were ones from last year’s A Painter Passing Through album (Reprise). The disarmingly autobiographical title
song is a gorgeous thing, the equal of virtually anything he’s done in the past, and Lightfoot’s insistent, folk-based, signature grooves and drones were as potent as ever in Boathouse and Uncle Toad Said.

There’s no getting around the fact that Lightfoot’s voice has changed continuously over the decades; the delivery is more clipped, the tone more constricted (no doubt affected by some recent gigs in Nevada desert resorts). But it doesn’t matter much, for he still puts the songs over with low-key savvy and obvious affection, with no hint of going into autopilot even when performing tunes he plays every
time out (The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Don Quixote, If You Could Read My Mind, etc.). The band remains a fine-tuned engine, with Rick Haynes’ inventive bass lines on Edmund Fitzgerald
registering unusually well in this space.

With his new anthology very much in mind, Lightfoot was in a reminiscing mood in the second half, telling droll stories, including one about how Elvis changed the words in Early Morning Rain.

There are 16 unissued songs in the new box, some of astonishing quality and an off-the-cuff fragment from the hard-rocking Canary Yellow Canoe did turn up Thursday.

By RICHARD S. GINELL, June 28, 1999