Edmonton, AB

Winspear Centre - Nov. 1, 1999


Singer-songwriter still outperforms most of his peers

For longtime fans of Gordon Lightfoot who weren't aware that his voice has gone through some less-than-favourable changes over the last few years, the first give-away might have been that the concert was sponsored by a local "talk" radio station.

Then there were those of us who were leery of attending the show based on having witnessed the great songwriter's painfully strained show on Much More Music a few months ago.

Well, in a day and age when tunesmiths of quality don't seem to be leaping out of the woodwork, the bottom line after attending Monday's sold-out show at the Winspear Centre is this.

Gordon Lightfoot with 50 per cent of his former vocal capacity is still a better bet than most performances built around songs.

Over the course of two sets, the legend paraded out a selection of tunes that, for the most part, make one sit in awe. That's while being bathed in beautiful melodies and led through tales bursting forth with unforgettable images and poetically etched emotions.

Yes, the once-resonant voice has lost its lower range, but the man has adjusted as best he can and lets the melodies, usually played by himself and guitarist Terry Clements, carry the weight of If You Could Read My Mind, Carefree Highway or Don Quixote.

Think about how long these tunes have stayed on the shelves of contemporary music and it's quite a feat. Given what the new pop treatments of If You Could Read My Mind did last year on the charts, you know that Lightfoot doesn't need to be traipsing around the countryside boosting the bank balance. Then there's the fabulous 88-song box set that is selling very well across the land.

It's the period of Sit Down Young Stranger in '70 to '76's Summertime Dream that produces the most concert material. Alberta Bound, Sundown, Watchman's Gone, Ode To Big Blue and Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald surfaced from the era when he was a staple on radio.

That foreboding sound from Clements' electric guitar and the sparse bass lines from Rick Haynes announced Sundown like it was 1974, but the main man today can't quite find the vengeful vocal punch that used to nail the last lines of the chorus.

Watchman's Gone, which he hadn't done in Alberta on the last tour, had a bit more zip from the lip and he also pulled out a rarity in the pleasingly simple I Used To Be A Country Singer, which he didn't pen.

The epic Edmund Fitzgerald carried some instrumental force, but after all these years it remains a mystery why he favours a flatline approach to dynamics.

Just once this listener would like -- no, love -- to hear Clements crank the volume knob on his electric axe and really squeeze out some sparks on, for instance, Baby Step Back from the '82 Shadows album. Oh well.

Being in Alberta meant it was time to dust off Ian Tyson's Red Velvet, which Lightfoot recently cut, a nice touch that should go over well in Calgary tonight.

Then again the show will be absorbed as it was here, with a bit of reverence and a lot of respect.

Peter North, Special to the Journal - Freelance
Rick MacWilliam, the Journal