Vancouver, BC

Orpheum - Oct. 29, 1999


GORDON LIGHTFOOT: Folk legend mixed new tunes and classics from his vast repertoire.
When our nation's last airline has finally headed south, along with our professional sports franchises and our precious last drops of fresh water, let's hope Gordon Lightfoot is still around to remind us of what Canada is all about.

For two hours Friday night, the legendary Toronto folk artist captivated a near-capacity crowd of 2,500 at the Orpheum Theatre, spinning one tale after another about life, love and the Canadian landscape.

As he approaches 61, Lightfoot seems to have lost little vocally (although I would have preferred more volume) and appears in remarkably trim condition, although some might say his drawn face suggests he could do with a few more pounds.

Casual and unpretentious, Lightfoot played in blue jeans and cowboy boots during the first half of the concert -- which began precisely at 8 p.m., leaving dozens of people scrambling clumsily for their seats -- gearing down post-intermission to a T-shirt and white sneakers.

He sang standing rigidly at the microphone, focusing somewhere in the darkness around centre aisle, his face a complexity of expressions --wild-eyed one moment, eyebrows furrowed or locked in an emotional grimace the next.

Lightfoot never really played to the crowd, although he would occasionally walk to the edge of the stage during an acoustic instrumental, peer weirdly at the front row or just stare down at his own guitar picking, then walk back again.

He kept up the dialogue, though, preceding his songs with a short comment or anecdote -- often disjointed or mumbled off microphone -- such as the time he performed before a New York Yankees pre-season game and apparently declined to wear a Yankees jacket because they were playing the Toronto Blue Jays.

A four-piece band -- Rick Haynes on bass, Terry Clements on lead guitar, Barry Keane on drums and percussion, and Mike Heffernen on keyboards -- were almost invisible, quietly providing backup without working up much of a sweat.

The largely middle-aged audience wasn't as boisterous as I would have expected for Lightfoot's first Vancouver concert in almost seven years. They seemed in awe more than anything else, and could have cared less about the occasional performance glitch, including the time Lightfoot launched into a song, stopped himself with the self-admonition "Oh-boy," then moved onto the next number.

The audience saved their biggest applause for familiar tunes such as Early Morning Rain, If You Could Read My Mind, Canadian Railroad Trilogy, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (as the rain and wind howled outside, I swear a cold chill passed through the theatre as he sang "Superior, it's said, never gives up her dead, when the gales of November come early.")

Fans probably would have preferred a steady diet of hits, judging by the familiar requests constantly lobbed at him, but Lightfoot instead chose to balance the classics with lesser-known or newer songs.

Among them, Blackberry Wine (and we all know he's had plenty of experience with that sort of thing in his day, don't we?) and several numbers from his 1998 album, A Painter Passing Through, including the title cut, Uncle Toad Said, I Used To Be A Country Singer and the Ian Tyson cover, Red Velvet.

Given the weather conditions raging outside, Lightfoot appropriately enough warmed his Vancouver fans with a perfect capper for his second standing-ovation-encore, Rainy Day People -- you know, the ones who "don't talk/ They just listen til they've heard it all."

Larry Pynn, Sun Country Music Critic - Vancouver Sun