THUNDER BAY – Three songs into his first Thunder Bay show in six years, Gordon Lightfoot had a message for his fans – his legend lives on.
“The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” the veteran Canadian folk singer said, spending his Saturday night with 1,000 or so fans at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium.
At 78, Lightfoot can pretty much do what he wants in concert.
He’s earned that right.
Sure, his voice has been ravaged slightly by Father Time, a little more nasally than powerful like it was in its prime.
But his fans weren’t looking for perfection.
Lightfoot strode to the stage, soaked in the standing ovation that greeted him and did what he’s done for nearly six decades, acoustic guitar in hand.
Early on, he dug deep into his catalogue.
He hauled out Don Quixote, from his 1972 album of the same name, cautioning the crowd he'd get to the hits in short order.
“Don’t worry, we’re going to get to the 21st century in a minute,” he said, later offering up Never Too Close and Rainy Day People before pausing for a drink of water to refresh his voice as he began to hit his musical stride.
Never one to shy away from his hits, with such a large catalogue and only two 50-minute sets to fit it all in, Lightfoot has hit on a compromise to maximize the number of songs he can sing each night.
“We’ve shortened a couple of them,” he said, promising a medley of sorts to include several of his better-known songs.
“There’s certain tunes you can’t lose a verse from,” he said. “Some tunes you can.”
He cued up ‘70s hit Carefree Highway, then morphed into Did She Mention My Name, Ribbon of Darkness and then belted out a full version of Sundown just before the break.
Set No. 2 was more of the same, opening with Drink Yer Glasses Empty, stopping to tell the tale of the big lake they call Gitchigumi and The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald, resulting in yet another standing ovation.
Lightfoot parsed through Christian Island, 14 Karat Gold and Painter Passing Through, a 1998 offering, and If You Could Read My Mind, still a staple on rock stations from coast to coast, 47 years after it first hit the Canadian airwaves.
At that point he turned his back to the crowd, raised his arms to his four-piece band and slowly turned back to the audience, an allergy mister in hand.
He first offered to a snort to guitarist Carter Lancaster.
“No, I’m good,” Lancaster said.
Lightfoot stopped the show for 30 seconds, walked off stage and returned none the worse for the wear.
“I could do a hydraSense commercial, for goodness sakes," he said, chuckling.
After rolling through Restless, his sense of humour was back again.
“This one’s called Meet Me by the Rock Pile and I’ll Get a Little Boulder,” he joked, instead offering up 1982’s Baby Step Back, a song that hit No. 17 on the adult contemporary charts.
Early Morning Rain, once covered by Elvis Presley, led the show into the encore, Song for a Winter’s Night, but not before he recalled playing Lakehead University in 1967, when it was still “Port Arthur and Fort William" and name-dropped Thunder Bay crooner Bobby Curtola, detailing how well they knew each other.
As the final note sounded, Lightfoot crept a little closer to the crowd, took an extended look, waved and walked away.