“Hi…I’m Gordon Lightfoot and I’m not dead yet…” was the first bit of stage patter from legendary 77- year old Canadian songwriter Lightfoot after he nonchalantly cruised through the first 3 songs, ” Now And Then”, “Waiting For You”, and “The Watchman’s Gone”. That he was there was a minor miracle. The world almost lost him several times over to the Grim Reaper, which included his surviving an abdominal aortic aneurism , as well as dealing with the weird peripheral social damage he suffered from his ex-lover Cathy Smith’s involvement with the tragic overdose of one John Belushi. It’s been a long, strange trip for the spiritual Canadian. Reported dead more than a few times, he is anything but. He’ll likely tour until the very day the pine box claims him.
The show had no opening act, just background music of Lightfoot’s Greatest Hits. I was at first put off by this. But after the show began, it made sense. It helped to guide you through his incredible collection of songs he’s authored in 5 decades of writing and recording.
Gone was his rugged handsome looks that made his face so well-known in his 1960-1970-era heyday. Gone was his booming folk voice, replaced by a whisper. But not missing was his red velvet jacket, his deep emotional vault of lyrics and hooks, his dry humor stage patter and delivery, the lyrical cadence that sits atop of the layered melodies… still in tact was the memory and ability to play the acoustic guitar, and he more than deftly played a few leads when he saw the need to. Lightfoot is a master songwriter, a peer and associate of early Dylan. He has a revered Godlike status among folkies and Canadians that has lasted for decades. I recall as a kid first his huge breakout song, the haunting, beautiful lyrical masterpiece “If I Could Read Your Mind” in a time of wakening adolescence, followed later by his bigger hit song “Sundown” in the early 1970’s that ignited a cult following and made him a household name. All the girls swooned over him. And if the girls liked him, ok, then the guys did, too.[ “Sundown” plays out just as fresh now as it did when it originally climbed the charts. It’s timeless.] He was so popular he was even lovingly mocked by the then- early Saturday Night Live in one commercial skit [“Gordon Lightfoot Sings Every Song Ever Written!” ]
His popularity waned after the mid-1980’s as tastes veered away from singer songwriters, as well as the untimely demise of the traditional AM Top 40 format. But he still had a rabid following in America, England, and his home country Canada over the decades. That was obvious looking at the crowd, a mostly older bunch that grew up on AM radio and remembered when Gordon was a hot ticket on the pop-folk circuit. Many of them probably listened to the record “Summertime Dream” or “Gord’s Gold” on the way there. ACL-Live was set up with chairs in the floor section for the older crowd who wanted to be seated and the mix was, as usual, perfect. What a great venue for an intimate concert. The staff rollout the red carpet for ticket buyers. The full house crowd came to see a musical icon, and got what they paid for.
Backed by a talented 4- piece band that nuanced everything Lightfoot to perfection, they laid off to allow his diminished voice to be heard. They played to his strengths and helped to cover some weaknesses that advanced age and risky health cannot undo. I missed his warm, rich voice from his earlier days, ok. But I was grateful I got to see him perform. He was supposed to be dead, after all, being the Abe Vigoda of pop and folk…Armed with a roster of music dating back to 1962, Lightfoot can cherry-pick the ones he loves the most. Some were obscure, some were new, and some were the chestnuts; “If I Could Read Your Mind”, “Rainy Day People”, “Sundown”, “Ribbon Of Darkness”, “Carefree Highway”, “Did She Mention My Name”, “14 Karat Gold”, “Don Quixote”, “Baby Step Back”, “Let It Ride”, ‘Never Too Close”, “Shadows”, “Christian Island”, ” A Painter Passing Thru”, “Sweet Guinevere”, “All The Lovely Ladies”, “Early Morning Rain”, “Beautiful”, “I’d rather Press On”, and an especially powerful version of his monster hit “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” were all well-received. He closed with “Cold On The Shoulder”. You could hear Lightfoot enunciate well, even if he was having periods of difficulty. It’s an amazing feat that he could even go out on the road with his past health history. He and the band played two sets with a 20 minute break in between. Here is a snatch of a live show a few months ago[courtesy of motis76.]
This will likely be his last tour, a ten city leisurely bus ride this go round. Touching that the poignant, aging troubadour can still spin gold and wants to play. He doesn’t have to do this, he wants to do this. And yet, because he wants to do this, it’s what keeps him alive and kicking. I know some of you Get That. I hope his music gets rediscovered by a new generation of folkies. He’s a great storyteller and love song composer of the first-rate and there are some beautiful records waiting to be discovered for new, young folk ears.
Here was his setlist order.