November 2, 1999
Lightfoot thrills a sold-out Winspear crowd
By FISH GRIWKOWSKY -- Edmonton Sun
EDMONTON - You know how it is when you wake up first thing, look in the mirror and wish you'd been clawed to death by large cats the night before? Getting going after that can be tough.
Gordon Lightfoot should know. Anyone who saw him on a MuchMoreMusic concert special recently was jittery up front about a lot of things last night at the Winspear. Was his voice going? Were rumours this was the last tour true? How'd he get to be so tiny, anyway?
It was rough at first, but hold your horses. He came on sounding like a man who had stepped from a cold shower onto a November porch - like a teen's nervous first phone call to a pretty girl. It looked ugly. But then something fine happened. That voice, the one that can bend around an emotional song like a melted fork, started to glow red again. Not white, but red just the same. He sang a great tune called I Used to Be a Country Singer, one of several mortality songs in his two sets. Some of the lyrics went like this: "I can't sing now, I forget the words and my voice is almost gone." But it energized him and the shifting crowd.
Of course, the diehards were there with their own energy, the big men who gladly filled in for that low end of notes that Lightfoot's become a little nervous around. But he never really looked back, and when it came time for Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, he was all there - "140,000 per cent," as one inarticulate hockey player once put it on CBC.
The man was born some 61 years ago this month, you know. Even if he came onstage with his pants around his ankles and a Snoopy lampshade on his head, we would have forgiven him.
Thankfully, no such terror came to be. Ode to Big Blue was one of the best moments, an old song about a grand old whale who partied some with the lady whales, dodged the harpoons and faded with dignity. Hmmmm.
Alberta Bound had the full house clapping, of course, with a kind of civilized "Go Oilers!" sentiment. And a bluesy Make Way for the Lady made Gordon seem hipper than his wry, twitchy demeanour would reveal.
He played a little quickly through the Big Ones. If You Could Read My Mind blinked by. Sundown came early. So it was the second set had a more amourous feel, more personal. Love songs, failed love songs, stuff like that. Another great bit near the end: his folkified, slowed-down Stompin' Tom impersonation. "Ohhhhh, the good old hockey game ..." It was a fine wink to the country equal to his folk self.
As Gordon Lightfoot himself said at one juncture, not about his music, but it fits ... "It makes you feel better about this old Western society here." That really is his gift.
No one who went was disappointed. Or clawed to death by large cats, as it turns out.
LIGHTFOOT PLAYS DOWN THE COMPETITION
It's not enough to just be one of the best folksingers on our great planet any more. It's a cruel world and "peace" and "love" are copyrighted trademarks of American comglomerates, a little different than when Gordon Lightfoot first started out. So we thought it would be a good idea to compare the accomplished songwriter with several of the up-and-coming acts that have passed through E-ville this week, a perfect Canuck capstone to some serious musical weirdness. Let the battle of the bands begin! Winner gets to back him up at my next basement suite party (as long as they bring snacks).
LIGHTFOOT vs. WILLIAMS 3: Hank's fiery-tongued devil of a grandson and Lightfoot are both touring old catalogues, but the Cook County country show was said to rock anyway, which is not exactly the way anyone would describe last night at the Winspear. At no point did Lightfoot threaten to break my fingers next time I headed down to Tennessee, but he did look at me funny when I started weeping uncontrollably during Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald from beside the stage. The Tyson cover, Red Velvet, gave Lightfoot that country edge.
GORDON vs. FRED: Ontario's son Fred Eaglesmith spent half the time at the Sidetrack talking in a faux-redneck voice that made Albertans feel at home. His ambition was to make his audience drink, where Lightfoot had other plans. Something to do with comfort, humanistic pride and being happy, I believe. But they both connect well with the crowd, especially in Gord's second set when he switched to a T-shirt and sneakers.
CZECHOSLOVAKIA vs. CANADA: Uz Jsme Doma, and that's not a typo, blasted Rebar over the weekend, or so the story goes. They're a pounding Czech punk saxophone band, which is almost the opposite of Lightfoot's increasingly tenor singing. Most of Rebar's crowd wouldn't have gotten through the door at Winspear, but then, why would they have wanted to?
Things got really strange when the metal detector was pulled out at the concert hall. At least that's what the grinning usher said it was ...
GORDON LIGHTFOOT; OLD RELIABLE: The crowd always talks at New City Likwid Lounge, and Halloween's OR show was no exception. On the other hand, there's a scary silence at the Winspear because everyone's afraid those huge acoustics will let the lady in front of you know you're murmuring out loud about her blue hair. These two acts would be the best fit if they played together, as Ol' Gordo could use some pent-up angst drumming now and then and Old Reliable could use some box set potential.
Lightfoot has plenty to spare, after all.