by Jack W. Hill
Hot Springs Convention Center, Aug. 23
Gordon Lightfoot still has work to do, and it seems that he lives to keep working. For him, singing is his work, and he takes it seriously. He proved that Monday night at the Hot Springs Civic and Convention Center, before a decent crowd with more energy than one might have expected on a hot August night.
If only the sound had been up to Lightfoot’s lofty standards and work ethic. As it was, his voice should have been louder than it was, which would have served a double purpose: making it easier to understand the Canadian way of pronouncing some words, and drowning out pockets of the chattering class in the audience, those who insist on making themselves heard above the performer on stage.
But Lightfoot managed to serve up what he had promised: a two-hour show, minus a 20-minute intermission, that is. Unlike most concerts, there was no opening act, and at exactly 8 p.m., Lightfoot and his four-man band walked out and minus any pomp and circumstance, began to play, with Lightfoot looking slightly overdressed in a short red velvet coat. The show’s lighting was nicely understated throughout, playing off of some swaths of fabric that were nicely arranged.
Fans were in good spirits for a Monday night, eager to clap along and applaud the intricate guitar stylings of Terry Clements, who, along with drummer Barry Keane, bassist Rick Haynes and keyboardist Michael Hefferman, were all dressed in black and maintained a low profile as they supported their leader. At 71, Lightfoot did admirably well for someone who has survived two life-threatening incidents in the past eight years.
Beginning with “Triangle” and “Cotton Jenny,” the show ambled along through Lightfoot’s catalog of hits and songs that probably had more of an impact north of the border than in the United States. Following energetic takes on three of his best-known anthems — “Ribbon of Darkness,” “Sundown” and “Alberta Bound” — the quintet took a break after 50 minutes. When they returned, Lightfoot, who had changed outfits and now looked more the part of a riverboat gambler in a dark vest, pondered a few theories of how a certain boat sank and it wasn’t the Titanic he was leading up to, but perhaps his most famous story song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
And while Lightfoot threw out a few narratives on how some songs were written, plus some jokes and tall tales, he was mostly business, delivering up tasteful versions of his hits, “Beautiful” and “If You Could Read My Mind,” along with worthy takes on “A Painter Passing Through,” “Let It Ride,” “14 Karat Gold,” “Carefree Highway” and “Ringneck Loon.”
By the time he mentioned how his next song had been recorded by impressive numbers of other artists, most folks knew it was time for a nifty ride through “Early Morning Rain,” followed by a brief story about how on a hot July night he had written the next number, “Song for a Winter’s Night.”
After that song, the band left the stage, but they were wise enough to return for an encore of “Blackberry Wine,” but there would only be one serving for this thirsty crowd.