When I googled Gordon Lightfoot’s name ahead of last night’s concert at the Smith, I was a bit taken aback.
Gone was the rugged-looking, bearded, curly-haired Canadian singer-songwriter of my 1970s AM radio-fueled memory. What I saw was a thin, frail man of nearly 80 with long, straight gray hair. My first thought was “can he still do it?” I guess the answer depends on your expectations.
Lightfoot’s vocals were thin, sometimes to the point of almost whispering and he struggled to hit the high notes. Having said that, there was no evidence that the sold out house cared. They came to hear a legendary storyteller and hear him they did, in a 26 song set, including all those 70s radio hits and more, as well as encore “Too Many Clues in This Room” from the 1976 album “Summertime Dream.”
What came through in this show was Lightfoot’s passion for performing his music and the brilliance of the music. Lightfoot biographer Nicholas Jennings says “his name is synonymous with timeless songs about trains and shipwrecks, rivers and highways, lovers and loneliness.” Lightfoot’s unique vocal cadence and phrasing bring those stories to life. He joked that “rumors of my death have been highly exaggerated,” referring back to a 2002 rumor that he had passed away from what was a serious illness that led to a long recovery. He also quipped that anyone could play his songs by simply putting a capo on their guitar in the second position. He sells himself short.
Lightfoot’s touring band was terrific. “Newcomer” lead guitarist Carter Lancaster, who’s been with the band for ten years, keyboardist Mike Heffernan, drummer Barry Keane and bassist Rick Haynes, who has shared stages with Lightfoot from Las Vegas to the Toronto Skydome to the Royal Albert Hall for 50 years, gave the music just the right amount of color, from Lancaster’s acoustic and occasionally electric leads to Heffernan’s haunting keyboard during “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The band was helped by the Smith’s superb acoustics. I remember Keane striking the triangle and hearing the sound ring clearly through the hall. The building was made for acoustic music.
Last night was show number 29 of 55 announced tour dates for 2018, including, God bless him, a TBA show on his 80th birthday, November 17th. He may not look or sound quite like he did in 1975, but if you get a chance to see Gordon Lightfoot in concert, I guarantee you’ll be entertained and you’ll feel a cold chill when the gales of November come early.