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Posted on Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 8:30 a.m.

Folk icon Gordon Lightfoot puts on a crowd-pleasing show, despite vocal struggles

By Roger LeLievre

My relationship with Gordon Lightfoot’s music goes back nearly 40 years, to the days he played concerts in hockey arenas in northern Ontario. The Canadian folk icon stopped at the Michigan Theater Wednesday night and, for me at least, it was a walk down memory lane.

Granted, the stroll was bittersweet, as health programs and age have taken a toll on Lightfoot’s once-rich baritone. It was sometimes difficult to listen as he strained to hit the notes, especially in the higher register.

There’s no denying that Lightfoot, now 72, has had a rough several years. It’s a wonder he’s still touring, but, gentlemanly road warrior that he is, he keeps plugging away in the best show-must-go-on tradition, and he deserves plenty of credit for it.

He’s also earned the love and respect showered on him by the Ann Arbor audience, members of which seemed happy to overlook any vocal shortcomings in order to be in the presence of someone who is, lest anyone forget, a masterful songwriter. Not only is his poetic, storytelling style getting harder and harder to find these days, I was reminded how beautiful his arrangements are, the interplay of guitars, keyboard and drums darned near orchestral at times.

During his nearly two-hour show (with intermission), Lightfoot played the hits, including his signature, and still-haunting, “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Sundown,” “Ribbon of Darkness,” “If You Could Read My Mind” and more.

He also reached into his catalog for gems such as the rarely performed “Home From the Forest,” “Did She Mention My Name?” and “Don Quixote.” The epic “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” capped the night, with a single-song encore, “In My Fashion,” closing the show.

Lightfoot seemed to divide the set list fairly evenly between older and newer material, with the lesser-known “Sea of Tranquility,” “14 Karat Gold,” “A Painter Passing Through” and “If Children Had Wings” included in the mix, as was Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells.”

Throughout, he was ably backed by a four-man band that included newcomer Carter Lancaster, filling the shoes of the late guitarist Terry Clements.

Given the circumstances, a lesser performer might have decided to retire. But Lightfoot’s fingers can still make the six-and-12-string guitars sound exquisite, and so what if the voice is a little shaky. He’s still up there doing his thing, audiences are more than happy to come and hear him do it, and for that he gets my vote. He’s playing 18 shows in his current tour. In the words of the woman behind me, “Way to go, Gordo!”



Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 10:24 p.m.

We had great seats and still could not understand. It was embarrassing. I am disappointed in the Michigan Theater. It was a frail performance. He needs to recognize that he can no longer deliver the vocals he once did and hang it up. As a bonus, we had to put up with 2 obnoxious women in the center section who had to stand up and scream during the first half. Pity the folks immediately around them. Many thanks to them for making the event especially enjoyable...I wish there was a refund available.


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 5:37 p.m.

It was a good show and I am glad I went. His voice got stronger and, yes, they could have turned up the volume a little bit. I also was bothered by the people that cannot seem to get there on time and, in particular, this goofy blonde women in about Row R that felt it necessary to stand up, clap, dance, scream, wave her arms as if she were the only person that mattered. What an idiot and I truly felt sorry for the folks behind her. Someone must have gotten to her at intermission as she remained seated for the rest of the show. Hard to believe how stupid people can be. But, for the most part, it was a good show, a well behaved audience and worth the price of admission. In the end, ol' Gordon needs to hang it up soon lest he spoil his legacy--but, I was glad to see him one last time.

Blue canoeist

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 3 a.m.

I believe the woman in question, who you refer to here, not only was disruptive from her seat but then proceeded to hop up on stage during the intermission and began to do cartwheels within 3 feet of the bands instruments. It was clear that she was only going to get worse. I ran up and got the manager & security and then came back and spoke with her to gauge her state of mind and then strongly suggested to them that they remove her, which they did. In fairness to her, she may well have had some other "problems" going on that may have contributed to her inappropriate behavior at the Michigan last night. She needed to be removed and it made the concert more enjoyable for everyone around but I couldn't help but wonder and hope that she made it home okay. She simply wasn't in her right mind. Who can say why?


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 12:53 p.m.

We left at the intermission. Our seats were more toward the back and could barely hear his voice most of the time. As we were leaving we saw several concertgoers complaining to the staff that they could not hear. There were several callouts in between songs to "Turn it up". This was my first concert in many years and my biggest complaint was with the rude people sitting around us. About a third came late and had to be seated during songs. Others kept talking. Some kept tapping their shoes loudly and a few kept singing along with the performer. Next time I will take my $100 and buy the albums to listen to them in the comfort and quiet of my home.

Ron Granger

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 4:34 p.m.

Doh! I think it was an Ark show held at the Michigan, and it was in my ark ticket email.. That does explain the problems a bit more, though I standby my observations from similar events at the Ark. Folk in non-folk venues is dicey.


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

This show was at Michigan Theater

Ron Granger

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

I've seen hundreds of shows at the Ark. It's an amazing venue and Ann Arbor is very fortunate to have it. There are few comparable venues anywhere in the country. A big name like Lightfoot is going to draw a certain concert-goer... A lot of people know That One Song, but no other. And they may not even be the type of person who would ever go to a folk show. Those folks tend to get bored, and some talk. They think they're in a bar. The Ark is not a bar. People who come in late are typically drunk. Not always, but usually. And drunks talk. I've seen police remove problem drunks by force mid-show to great applause (they refused to leave at the usher's request, and even at the police request). It's very, very rare, but it happens. Rule of thumb: clappers and foot tappers are almost assuredly out of time. There are times to sing with the performer - they will let you know. Otherwise, no, we did not come to listen to audience wannabes. Especially drunk ones. You might have gotten up, gone out, and alerted an usher to the issue. Though the only thing they can really address during the show is the talking. I think the Ark should include a statement at the show intro about talking. It shouldn't be necessary, and at most shows it is not. But at some shows, it is. But the best news of all is that you can improve this situation. The Ark is a non-profit that is operated by volunteers. Go volunteer, and you can be a part of the solution.


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 11:34 a.m.

It was interesting, he struggled a bit in the first half and then actually sounded better in the second half of the show. On some songs particularly "Rainy Day People" he seemed to turn back the clock a bit. His guitar work still sounded strong all night.

Marilyn Wilkie

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 11:09 a.m.

His song about the Edmund Fitzgerald has always had special meaning for me since, as a child, I saw it launched in Detroit. To me, and my generation, he will always be one of the most memorable artists and storytellers. His Song For A Winter's Night is a masterpiece.


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 12:45 p.m.

I haven't heard his version of "Song For A Winter's Night" (I know he wrote it) but Sarah McLachlan's version is one of my favorite songs.


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 6:56 a.m.

So sad that I missed Lightfoot at the Michigan. Every November, I'm sure to play "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." November 10, 1975: that great ore carrier went down off Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Michigan's firearms deer season starts November 15th: I remember hearing about this tragic sinking as my friends and I prepared to go up to the U.P. to hunt that year. I've always considered the lyrics of that song to be the finest poetry. Good wishes to Gordon Lightfoot: you've given us so much through your music.