A Resting Place

"It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Gordon Lightfoot @ Massey Hall, 5/21/05

It was a very interesting Saturday evening at Massey Hall in Toronto. It was the last of Lightfoot's four concerts there, his favorite place to play. We didn't have great seats, but we could see Gord and all the band members just fine. The show started right on time, with the band members taking their places at 8, and Gord strolling out onto the stage to a standing ovation. Picking up his guitar, he started right into Never Too Close, a song that's been stuck in my head since Saturday night.

I had no idea what to expect as we took our seats in the familiar concert hall. After the first and second songs (the second being Don Quixote), I was wondering about his voice. He seemed quite strained, and the higher register was hurting. He abbreviated several of the songs. Minstrel of the Dawn, for example, dropped a couple verses, but added a brilliantly beautiful instrumental section; I wish I had a recording. The following song, Harmony, was the highlight of the first half of the show. Following Harmony were In My Fashion (he had a blast on the "rap" part), Christian Island (abbreviated; my dad was hoping for this one), and Ghosts of Cape Horn. He picked up the pace a bit with Cotton Jenny, I Used To Be A Country Singer, and the classic, Sundown. We were dancing around as best you can while sitting.

With the last four songs of the first set, he did something I've never heard him do before. He played Ribbon of Darkness, and concluded the last chorus by singing, "ribbon of darkness..." and then allowing a long pause. As we all expected the words "over me" to finish the song, he broke into the opening riff of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The crowd went ape crazy; it was very cool. Then he strung together two ballads, Spanish Moss and Shadows, the second of which he had a lyric stumble on and had to start over (another thing I've never seen him do).

Like the last Lightfoot show I saw, it took him the first half to get warmed up. Apparently this wasn't the case Wednesday night; reviews say he was "on" right from the get-go. But hey, it was the fourth night in a row for a guy who almost died two years ago and has been through several major sugeries in that time. Can't blame him too much.

At intermission, I was a bit concerned about his career, given the vocal struggles of the first set. But as soon as he opened his mouth to sing the first line of Waiting for You at the start of the second set, I was thrown back in my seat; what a difference from the first half! Beautifully done, and I love the melody changes since the original recording. Restless followed, one I had personally hoped he'd do. Clouds of Loneliness, a sad ballad from the new album, contains some interesting autobiographical lyrics - "I'm all dressed up to be somebody; all I need is a friendly face."

An excellent version of Let it Ride had us dancing in our seats again. Couchiching, a song about his hometown or Orillia by a lake, was surprising - the vocals Saturday night were even better than on the album.

Then came the night's highlight - thunderous applause erupted at the first few bars of If You Could Read My Mind. It was magnificently sung, and the crowd sat in that sort of hushed silence that tells you something special is happening, even if you don't quite know what.

Baby Step Back has never been a favorite of mine, but I enjoyed it Saturday night. Then came Early Morning Rain, a song that Gord noted was recorded by "many important people" (Just for the record, those people include Elvis, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, the Kingston Trio, and Ian & Sylvia, among others). Then came the soft and simple ballad Song For A Winter's Night (gotta love the sleigh bells).

Bitter Green and a lovely version of On the High Seas (after some tuning issues) set up the show's last pre-encore song, a riveting rendition of Old Dan's Records. The band had a blast with this one, and a long standing ovation brought Gord out for an encore of Canadian Railroad Trilogy (Canada's "other national anthem"). He doesn't quite have the voice for this one anymore, as it is very demanding vocally, but the crowd was in it nonetheless, and it was a good performance. We stood to our feet once again, bringing him out one more time for a final encore ("Thanks, but we were coming back anyway," quipped Gord). I was hoping for "Carefree Highway," but alas, Cold on the Shoulder would be the night's last song. He left the stage to shouting and clapping and cries of, "Thank you, Gord!"

This trip and concert were the most fun I've had in a long time. I'm excited about Lightfoot's music again, maybe more so than ever before. It'll be quite interesting to see what he does with however many years he has left. More than that, the time with family was a blessing. I couldn't have asked for more out of a two day vacation.


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