LIVE: Gordon Lightfoot @ Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 11/12/15
Review and photographs by Ed Conway
Less than a week before his 77th birthday, troubadour Gordon Lightfoot stepped up to the mic in front of a sold-out Troy Savings Bank Music Hall audience (my second trip in two days to this wonderful concert hall). His soft baritone voice was matched perfectly by the musicians of his backing band.
Despite his age and health issues, Lightfoot’s voice is remarkably preserved; owing to his easy style which never seems to push it beyond its limits. You could close your eyes and be transported back to see the man who wrote and performed these songs as the younger man he was then. While his appearance on stage is thin and wispy, his two-set, 25-song show demonstrated a strength not readily apparent.
At times, Lightfoot seemed distant; not in an aloof uncaring way of someone just going through the motions, but of someone telling the story of his life through song. His finger-picking was slow and deliberate, used more as an accompaniment to his story with the band following this same trend.
It was clear from the first song “The Watchman’s Gone,” that not only was the band well-rehearsed, but also had been with Lightfoot for quite some time, as they came in and out of focus seamlessly as each took their turn in the spotlight. Bassist Rick Haynes first played with Lightfoot in 1969. Drummer Barry Keane first began touring with Lightfoot in 1975, but played as a studio drummer on Old Dan’s Records back in ’72. Keyboardist Mike Heffernan was hired just before Christmas of 1980. The newby of the group, guitarist Carter Lancaster was first contacted in 2009 to possibly help the band with their PBS-TV special and joined the band full-time in 2011, after the passing of long-time guitarist Terry Clements. There is no substitute for this amount of time together, and it showed.
The crowd applauded the opening notes and sang along to the well-known songs from Lightfoot’s rich catalog. The hits – such as “Carefree Highway,” “Sundown” and “If You Could Read My Mind” – were not just thrown in at the end, as many veteran performers do, but were each given their own proper placement in the set list, making it feel as though they were sung not just because they were expected.
“Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” arguably his most popular song, was preceded by a story of how the band, all from the Toronto area, had visited the Edmund Fitzgerald exhibit at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum near where the Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior 30 years ago. The words become even more poignant as Lightfoot has made it a point to meet with the families of the 29 lost over the years.
GORDON LIGHTFOOT SET LIST
Waiting for You
All the Lovely Ladies
I’d Rather Press On
A Painter Passing Through
Much to My Surpise
Cold On the Shoulder
Did She Mention My Name
Ribbon of Darkness
Drink Yer Glasses Empty
Now and Then
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Never Too Close
Minstrel of the Dawn
Let It Ride
If You Could Read My Mind
Baby Step Back
Canadian Railroad Trilogy
Rainy Day People
Excerpt from Kirsten Ferguson’s review at The Daily Gazette: “And the crowd packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the sold-out theater did not seem to mind if his performance was compromised by age. Instead they sat riveted, reverent and appearing just happy to be there, applauding at the opening notes to many of his best-known songs. Regardless of weary voice, Lightfoot’s songs are timeless and convey great empathy, possessing an emotional depth that resonates despite the delivery and a lyrical richness that creates whole worlds within each song. He opened with ‘Waiting for You’ from his 1993 album by the same name, a song with references to ‘factories and farms’ and ‘skies of North America’ that make palpable the feel of North Country winter. The rest of the show drew judiciously from Lightfoot’s 50-year career. In fact, he had so many songs to fit in that he admitted to shortening some. ‘This is from album 14 or 15’ he said before 1993’s ‘I’d Rather Press on.’ He followed with 1998’s ‘A Painter Passing Through’ and 1972’s lushly devoted love song ‘Beautiful’ — his second charting single — which drew cheers as it began.”