LIVE: Gordon Lightfoot @ the Palace Theatre, 5/19/12


Review by Greg Haymes

A bona fide Canadian national treasure, Gordon Lightfoot was a singer-songwriter supreme back in the ’60s and early ’70s. His recordings soared high on the pop, country and adult contemporary charts. And with gems like “If You Could Read My Mind” and “Sundown,” his booming baritone blasted all across the radio airwaves.

The 73-year-old Lightfoot, who graced the stage at the Palace Theatre last month, is not the robust singer that he once was, and his once golden voice has been reduced to little more than a raspy whisper. At the Palace, he struggled to reclaim those glory days, and indeed he did rekindle the precious memories that those classic songs evoked.

His musical style has always been understated – tasteful acoustic arrangements, flowing melody lines and poetics lyrics – Lightfoot and his four-piece band were up to the task. And even if Lightfoot couldn’t quite deliver definitive interpretations, the time-tested songs themselves managed to carry the performance.

The opening “Did She Mention My Name?,” the melancholy “Rainy Day People,” the gently chugging “Ribbon of Darkness,” the jaunty “Cotton Jenny,” the lush “Beautiful,” the snaking blues-tinged sing-along “Sundown,” the epic “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”…

But it was “A Painter Passing Through,” a heartbreaking look back at past fame and glory, that cut closest to the bone, a raw, bittersweet self-examination.

The jazz-flavored blues of “Make Way for the Lady” sounded more than a bit out of place amid an evening of Lightfoot’s vintage folk faves. And new guitarist Carter Lancaster – replacing Terry Clements, who died last year after four decades as Lightfoot’s six-string right-hand man – faithfully recreated the recorded guitar leads, but only rarely seemed to step out and make them his own.

However, the band provided a solid but subtle underpinning for his songs, offering just enough of a sonic boost to help carry Lightfoot’s often-ghostly vocals without ever overpowering them.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the stage set and overly busy lighting that proved to be a major distraction throughout the performance.

After a short intermission, Lightfoot and band returned for the second 50-minute set with a renewed strength, and he took command of such gems as the wistful farewell of “Early Morning Rain,” “The Minstrel of the Dawn,” “If You Could Read My Mind” and the towering, show-closing classic “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.”

On Thursday evening (June 14), Gordon Lightfoot will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at a ceremony in New York City. All I can say is, “It’s about time.”

Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “But given Lightfoot’s age and brushes with illness in the past, it was a wonder his vocals and guitar playing sounded little different than it did in his heyday in the ’60s and ’70s. Songs such as ‘Carefree Highway,’ the somber ‘Never Too Close’ and a lilting run on ‘A Painter Passing Thru’ were met with welcome applause from the crowd as Lightfoot half sung, half whispered each line in his familiar croak. Given the propensity for ever-increasing volume at live shows, even from Lightfoot’s contemporaries, the quiet, subdued nature of this show was striking. At times, the cheers threatened to drown out the band. This isn’t by any means a knock — the sound stayed true to Lightfoot’s past and to his extensive back catalog.”

Did She Mention My Name?
Carefree Highway
Sea of Tranquility
Never Too Close
14 Karat Gold
A Painter Passing Through
Let It Ride
Rainy Day People
The Watchman’s Gone
Ribbon of Darkness
Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Sweet Guinevere
Cotton Jenny
Early Morning Rain
Home From the Forest
Waiting for You
Minstrel of the Dawn
Make Way for the Lady
If You Could Read My Mind
Don Quixote
Baby Walk Back
Canadian Railroad Trilogy
In My Fashion

1 Comment
  1. Dion says

    Grand review. The sad thinning of Gord’s voice has been going on for twenty years. His whisper-song is as much a feat of courage as performance these days. RIP Terry Clements, who also always played the same leads, note for note, in performance—but at least he was the man who invented them. Going back to the ’70s, it was always one of the drawbacks of a GL show that the songs sounded more or less just like the record.

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