Gordon Lightfoot‘s voice is not in the greatest of shapes anymore. The rich depth for he’s well known over the past five decades is gone. And he can’t quite hit all the high notes. April 29th at the State Theater, nobody really gave a damn. It was less just another concert than it was an invaluable visit from the lifelong icon whose personal warmth and engaging gift of song made the 2,100-seat auditorium feel intimate as, say, a great big living room you just happened to be sharing with your date and a whole lot of strangers.
In great voice or no, Lightfoot can still handle a melody with the best of them. He has an understated way of getting to the truth of a song, subtly sustaining that most important part of a performance, feeling. That being a very good thing, since his songs all have a special feel to them.
Without doubt there were audience favorites that had to be left off the set list (including, ironically, “Carefree Highway”—the road trip is billed as the “50 Years on the Carefree Highway Tour”), otherwise he’d be on-stage until the wee hours. Lightfoot made it clear from the outset that his priority was not making this a night of his greatest hits. He started with a good handful of songs most folk wouldn’t know, though they clearly had the feel of traditional folk music. Hardly surprising. Long before the guy hit it big, he built a following in troubador mode. After all, this is the fella who penned the original roustabout, travelin’ man anthem, “That’s What You Get For Lovin’ Me.” Lightfoot did get around to that which put the most butter on his bread over a long, long career. There was, for instance, “Rainy Day People,” “Early Morning Rain,” “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Beautiful” and “If You Could Read My Mind,” accompanied by an efficient little four-piece backup band.
Lightfoot isn’t known for a whole lot of jawing between songs. When he does have something to say, it’s not a wizened quip or fascinating anecdote. He says what comes to mind, might get a chuckle here and there, might not. Then gets back to doing what he came there to do. Make wonderful music. That he did, from the moment he walked on-stage all the way up until he leisurely strolled off. When he did, after the obligatory encore, wave to everybody and take his leave, the standing ovation was far from the Twin Cities standard, perfunctory send-off. Nearly in unison, the whole house sprang to their feet in a cataract of heartfelt applause. Tribute indeed well deserved.
Sooner or later, Gordon Lightfoot is going to have to throw in the towel, go sit somewhere and rest on his considerable laurels. At which point an evening like this, faded voice and all, is going to well be a treasured memory for all who were on hand.
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