Thursday, August 1, 2013

Music: Gordon Lightfoot at B.B. King's

Text and photos by George Molé

Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot appeared at the B.B. King Blues Club on 42nd Street on Wednesday, July 24, and bonded with an enthusiastic audience of more fans than I ever imagined he would have in New York.

Looking a bit gaunt--the singer suffered from several serious medical issues over the last decade or so, including a stroke--and backed by an excellent four-piece band, Lightfoot, 74, gave the packed house two hours of his trademark melodic folk-rock, including several of his most well-known songs.

Lightfoot's distinctive voice, if not quite as robust as on the recorded versions of his work we've all heard for years, nonetheless more than carried his finely-written tunes.  "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," "Sundown," "Carefree Highway" and, of course, "If You Could Read My Mind," were interspersed with less familiar and, at least to this listener, less interesting folk numbers.

The haunting "Edmund Fitzgerald," in particular, raised goose bumps, as Lightfoot sang:

"Does anyone know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
if they'd put fifteen more miles behind her."

"Gordon, yaw the man!" someone in the audience called out at one point, in a perfect Brooklyn accent.  "That sounds good from a New Yorker," Lightfoot joked.

"I don't like to mess around too much onstage with the guitars," Lightfoot mused absently, while tuning one of his instruments.  But he seemed to enjoy letting the audience in on a few technical points of the musician's craft.  "I'm using a capo now," he told us at one point.  "See, I brought it down a tone."

Speaking of craft, I hadn't realized before what a gem of songwriting craft is his biggest hit, "If You Could Read My Mind."  But I saw it on this night, through his understated but deeply-felt performance.

"If I could read your mind, love
What a tale your thoughts could tell
Just like a paperback novel
The kind that drugstores sell.

"When you reach the part where the heartaches come
The hero would be me
But heroes often fail
And you won't read that book again
Because the ending's just too hard to take."

It's writing like this that resulted in Lightfoot's songs being recorded by artists like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand and many others.  “I can't think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don't like," Dylan once said.  "Every time I hear a song of his, it's like I wish it would last forever."

It was a pleasure to see that Lightfoot, as ingrained a part of our culture as decades of radio play could make him, and whose career spans more than half a century, is still going strong, and still receives copious respect and affection--even from New Yorkers, who may not seem like the most natural audience for his music.  As we waited after the show for him to come out from backstage and chat--which he did, most graciously--one guy told me, "I've seen him live about 15 times."

I'm not sure yet if I'd want to see him 15 times.  But I sure would like to see him again if he comes back to New York for another gig.

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At August 2, 2013 at 3:51 AM , Blogger Barry Reitman said...

Nice piece, George!

At August 3, 2013 at 7:42 PM , Anonymous Diosa said...

I spent many an afternoon as a teen practicing Lightfoot's songs on my guitar. Thanks George for bringing back memories of my youth. I never realized how memorable his lyrics were.

At August 10, 2013 at 5:35 PM , Anonymous John Fowles said...

even more pix and some videos from this concert may be found at this thread on the very active Lightfoot Discussion Forum at:-


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