Cleveland, OH

Palace Theatre - Oct. 17, 1999


From '50s Toronto folkie to '70s Top 40 mainstay to a wizened '90's survivor, Gordon Lightfoot has maintained a core of fans that befits a singer-songwriter of his status.  Now 60, the Canadian musical legend performed a two-hour show of "hits, rarities and new stuff" from throughout his 40-year career, at the Palace Theatre last Sunday night.

His latest album, "A Painter Passing Through", is described by Lightfoot as "autobiographical," and as he stood center-stage looking almost frail, one could easily identify with the love, won and lost,
that is chronicled in the lyrics of Lightfoot's songs.

Backed by a crack band of musical veterans (guitarist Terry Clements, drummer Barry Keane, bassist Rick Haynes and keyboardist Mike Heffernan), Lightfoot broke the show into two sets, deftly mixing his old fan favorites with songs from the new album.  "Drifters" kicked off the show, while the playful and childlike "Uncle Toad Said" brought on one of the few audience interactions of the night.  As Lightfoot closed his eyes and softly sang "Beautiful," one could imagine the person who inspired that song.

A trio of hits quickly followed, as Lightfoot and company performed "Sundown" (his 1974 No. 1 song), "Carefree Highway" and a snippet of "Cotton Jenny" for a fan who requested it.  Another new song,
"Boathouse," elicited polite applause.

But it was the final song of the first set, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," that transfixed the audience.  That Great Lakes saga-put-to-song ranks right up there with Lightfoot's greatest
achievements.  The fact that the ill-fated ore freighter was headed for Cleveland when it sank without a trace on Nov. 10, 1975, in a ferocious Lake Superior storm makes it even more meaningful to Cleveland audiences.  It was almost like sitting around a campfire and hearing a ghost tale.  Clements' lead guitar created a chilling counterpoint to Lightfoot's solemn lyrics.

"I don't drink anything stronger than pop," Lightfoot announced at the beginning of the second set.  "But my Pop will drink anything," he added jokingly. Lightfoot quit drinking alcohol almost 10 years ago, which explained his dramatic weight loss to those of us who hadn't seen him in a long time.

The second set was punctuated with more upbeat material from "A Painter Passing Through" and such chestnuts as "Blackberry Wine" and "If You Could Read My Mind."  Although Lightfoot's voice sounded weak at the onset of the evening, he seemed to get his second wind as the show progressed.  By the time he performed his much-covered "Early Morning Rain," his voice was in full bloom.  The encore of the majestic "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" brought the night to a fitting close.

On a cold, windy night in Cleveland, Lightfoot and his band made those of us sitting around that campfire in the Palace glad to be near the master storyteller who happened to bring along his acoustic guitar.

Cleveland Plain Dealer - by Marc Holan