Thursday, February 06, 2014

Gordon Lightfoot Concert Review: Valle del Oro Ballroom Mesa, Arizona




  (Photos: Michael Manning)

I first met Gordon Lightfoot many years ago. He had thick, curly hair that was a mirror image of such albums as "Sundown" and "Don Quixote". Over the decades, he's performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, and for me--my college Armory Fieldhouse, (no longer used for concerts), and an outdoor amphitheater in Texas in 1997.

Last night's Gordon Lightfoot concert was by far the most unusual venue I could have imagined: Mesa, Arizona's Valle del Oro RV Park Ballroom.

As the new millenium began, Lightfoot survived a ruptured aortic stomach aneurysm, a mild stroke and endured surgeries in the years after a month-long coma. He credits his ability to endure these set backs to a regular exercise workout schedule that has been part of his life for many years. At 75 years of age, his voice is raspy, but his musicianship hasn't changed. He remains one of the last true balladeers, crafting a song the way a fine carpenter builds a bookcase. His touring schedule includes nearly 100 dates a year. At the last minute, I managed to snag a bargain ticket that was listed online in the "nose bleed section". To my surprise, I was escorted to the 11th row from the stage. 
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Last night's 90-minute set list of nearly 30 songs "changes constantly, it's constantly changing", according to Lightfoot,  from city to city. This allows the artist and the band to remain fresh, and for the audience, this affords access to deeper cuts from Lightfoot's repertoire. These songs were blended in among his Top 40 hits that once dominated radio. Alternating with 6 and 12 string guitars, some gems for me included "Restless" along with "Let It Ride"--a song I first saw Lightfoot perform on film before a quarter of a million people at an outdoor benefit concert in Europe. 

Last night, by contrast, he played to 800 people. The banter in between songs was relaxed and amusing, as Lightfoot explained that he just "loves the work" more than ever in his life, and that for him, "there's the music, and there's family". 

Of "Song for a Winter's Night" (written in Cleveland, Ohio during a thunderstorm) he allowed that he changed the song's setting to a "snow storm", before reminding the audience how many in the northeast last night were without electric power. Sarah McLachlan has also covered this song. One young girl who appeared to be 7 years-old ran to the stage and shouted "Mr. Lightfoot, this is a gift for you!", and dropped off a loud pink-colored gift bag. Not missing a beat, Lightfoot smiled and bent down to examine the gift bag before joking that this was probably the work of his "public relations department". 
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His first appearance at Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada at age 13 was the beginning of a revered annual two-day stay every November--with ticket's already selling for late 2014. Appearing to be on a whim, he announced that he was going to include one of his first hits, made famous in 1965 by the late Marty Robbins--"Ribbon of Darkness". The audience was caught off guard when Lightfoot stopped the song to have the last line sung en masse--"Thought I could catch you", he joked. On this night, "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" was noticeably absent from the show. But his 2012 "All Live" CD set list recorded at Massey Hall included such as: "14 Karat Gold", "Baby Step Back", "A Painter Passing Through", "Old Dan's Record's", and "Christian Island". Most ignited applause within the first opening notes as with "Rainy Day People", "Shadows", and "Race Among the Ruins". The hits were tastefully included without being top-heavy: "If You Could Read My Mind", "Beautiful", "Sundown", "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and "Carefree Highway". Of course, what songs were not included--for this author--had been performed in previous years' concerts. For that fact, I consider myself fortunate. Still, as ageless as Lightfoot's songs are, there were a few reminders that times have changed in 2014. The singer/songwriter appeared gaunt, but full of energy. 
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As previously referenced, meeting Gordon Lightfoot with other college students, and hanging out for 20 minutes of excited conversation with him after a concert backstage was a very different time in his career. The late Mimi Farina had opened that show, and the conversation among eight of us was relaxed and enjoyable. It was hard to imagine that we were sharing dialogue with a legend revered by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. Amazingly, folk and country music blossomed around the same time period in the 1960's, when Lightfoot's career began in earnest. 
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A Gordon Lightfoot song is infused with sensitivity, emotion, and that unmistakable voice that is too easy to take for granted. Last evening's concert was a musical gift to all.            
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Lightfoot has won 15 Juno Awards and been nominated for 5 Grammy Awards. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986, and the Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2001. In May 2003, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada and is also a member of the Order of Ontario. In 2004, was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and, in 2012, the U.S. Songwriters Hall of Fame. 
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(Photo: Michael Manning)


13 comments:

Catherine said...

Gordon Lightfoot is a Canadian Classic! My husband loves him and plays his music all the time. Excellent.
xo Catherine

Michael Manning said...

Hi, Catherine: I hope you both have a chance to Google his tour schedule and determine if he'll be performing in your area. I needed a break and was glad I went. A Legend. Highly regarded by endless artists who have recorded his music. :)

Lisa RedWillow said...

What a gift he has. He is as legendary as you write and is one of Canada's greatest artists. A beautiful blog and a pleasure to read.

Michael Manning said...

Lisa: Thank you for posting such a thoughtful compliment. See ya soon!

Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

Well how excellent that you got to go!

Michael Manning said...

Lisa: It was a really nice opportunity to get out and see a great performance. :)

Michael Manning said...

Charlene in Toronto: Thanks for the info (which is included herewith)but my filter settings wouldn't allow the full post. Best regards!

Alisa Hope Wagner said...

Wow! It seems that his work has been greatly appreciated by both the US and Canada! And he still humble enough to play the small crowds, which is shows a very genuine side of him and a love of what he does. Thank you for sharing the life of this talented musical artist, Michael!

Michael Manning said...

Thanks, Alisa: A Gordon Lightfoot concert is always a celebration of life! I will certainly see him in concert again. :)

Ronald Payne said...

Hello,going to see Gord tonight,Nov.22,2014,saw him 2yrs.ago.A good review done,and yes Gord does have a pleasant stage presence.

Michael Manning said...

Ronald: Thank you for the kind words and enjoy an evening you'll never forget!

Ronald Payne said...

Hi M.Manning,just got back from his show in Ottawa,good ol Gord was in fine form,must say he seemed full of energy and was very upbeat,all the hits and then some,money well spent,not very often you get to see a legend.

Michael Manning said...

Ronald: Sounds like a great night to savor. Hope to see him back this way in 2015! He has no plans to retire--nor should he! Thanks!