Toronto, ON

Massey Hall - Nov. 11, 1999


Gordon Lightfoot offers shelter from the wind and cold

It was midway through Gordon Lightfoot's show at Massey Hall last night -- the first of three nights at the venue -- when the singer uttered four very important words: "The gales of November." Actually, he sang them, in that distinct nasal quaver that has become an aural icon in Canada.

The words from the famous ballad The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald went a long way in capturing just why Lightfoot has made selling out three Massey nights in a row into an annual tradition.

Part singer-songwriter, part documentarian, he has a way of jarring your memory, even cutting it loose, whether with a historical piece like Edmund Fitzgerald or a reflective folk-rocker like his biggest hit, Sundown.

As Lightfoot noted, The Wreck Of Edmund Fitzgerald had special significance last night. Not only was it Remembrance Day, but it was exactly 24 years and one day since the fabled ore tanker went down during a storm on Lake Superior, taking its entire crew with it.

Not that Lightfoot made a big fuss about his status as a bard, or even the songs he was singing. He just did his thing and did it well, wearing the laid-back uniform -- denim and boots in the first half, T-shirt and sneaks in the second -- and leading his backing quartet through low-key tunes.

"It's nice to be back again," he said cheerily, by way of an intro. "If I had something more original to say, I'd say it."

He did admit jokingly that his year-end gigs have become "a feat."

Lightfoot tossed a few curve balls the audience's way, concentrating largely on rare material like the early '80s number Forgive Me Lord and the steady rocking -- for him -- new tune called Boathouse.

He was also savvy enough to keep cool in the face of some overly-enthusiastic fans in the first set, and even paused to oblige a few of them with autographs, which is pretty much a no-no by most performers' standards.

The second set included a clutch of favourites: Carefree Highway, Blackberry Wine, Early Mornin' Rain and the sublime -- and frequently ripped-off -- If You Could Read My Mind.

It would have been nice to hear a bigger band behind him at times, perhaps some piano or Hammond instead of the synthesized strings. But the playing, particularly from Lightfoot and guitarist Terry Clements, was spot-on.

Not a bad thing to hear before stepping out into that cold wind blowing in from the lake.

By KIERAN GRANT - Toronto Sun