A Passing Ship, Lightfoot Visits Phoenix

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By Don Ketchum

January 29, 2007

Like the passing ships about which he writes, Gordon Lightfoot has weathered many storms, including a few health setbacks in the 2000 decade.

Some might wonder, then, why, at the age of 68, he continues to subject himself to the rigors of the road rather than sit back and reflect on his remarkable career that has spanned nearly half a century.

The answer: Being a troubadour is in his blood. It is something he can't simply toss to the wind. He yearns to play for the people, the ones who helped make him who he is.

It was evident on Sunday night (Jan. 28), when Lightfoot and his band made a stop in Phoenix at the Orpheum Theatre, part of a nine-day, eight show jaunt across the desert and southern California.

The Orpheum is an old, former big-screen movie house in downtown Phoenix, but its character has been retained through remodeling, with some ornate decor in its upper reaches and around the stage area.

Its 1,800 seats (approx.) was the perfect venue for Lightfoot, large, yet intimate at the same time.

He thanked the near-capacity crowd for coming, saying how much the band has enjoyed coming to Phoenix over the years (the Orpheum is his sixth venue there in approximately 35 years).

"We enjoy being on the road. It helps us get away from some of the chaos of home," he said.

He seemed to enjoy his surroundings, too, referring to the refurbishing.

"Backstage is nice, too, the dressing rooms, dancing girls everywhere," he said, drawing laughter.

While the banter was amusing, the music is what they came for, and he delivered.

As he began the show with "Triangle,'' his voice had a slight raspiness (from the dry desert air, perhaps?), but after a few more songs, sounded much better.

He began to hit his stride with a run of "Waiting For You," "Painter Passing Through," "Rainy Day People," "Shadows," "Beautiful," and the song that endears himself to fans in Arizona -- "Carefree Highway."

He told of driving from Flagstaff to Phoenix about 1 a.m., seeing the road sign on the outskirts of Phoenix, telling bass player Rick Haynes that it would make a good song title and filing it away.

It always is a special moment when Lightfoot dusts off one of his older songs, and the first such offering was "Ribbon of Darkness," once covered by country singer Marty Robbins, who spent much of his early years in Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix.

Lightfoot warned the crowd that the first set was coming to a close and intermission was ahead -- "It's like working at a bar" -- and wrapped it up with the underrated "The Watchman's Gone," -- a tale of vagabonds riding the rails.

After an apparel change, he returned to tell about one of the first songs he wrote in 1953 about the Hoola Hoop craze.

Some of the words: "I'm a slob without a job because I'm Hoola Hoopin' all the time . . ."

More laughter. Again, the comfort level was evident.

So, too, is the ebb and flow between Haynes and the other band members -- keyboardist Mike Heffernan, percussionist Barry Keane and lead guitarist Terry Clements. One of the enjoyable parts of a Lightfoot show is watching their interaction -- a smile here, a nod there -- no words necessary.

Kicking off the second set was "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," followed by "Alberta Bound" and "Restless." There was "Clouds of Loneliness," from his most recent release called "Harmony," and it would have been good to hear others such as the title cut or "Shellfish," or perhaps "No Hotel."

Lightfoot unearthed another old gem which might have been the show's highlight in its clarity and lyrics -- "Sit Down Young Stranger." Written in a different time, one of its lines could easily refer to the current conflict in Iraq -- "That war is not the answer, that young men should not die . . ."

The second set ended with a song Lightfoot noted was covered by Elvis, among others -- "Early Mornin' Rain."

Lightfoot's encore was a spirited version of what he calls a "toe-tapper" -- "Old Dan's Records."

He seemed genuinely touched by the final roar. As he smoothed his long, reddish-gray hair behind his ears and strode into the shadows, it left an impression -- one we hope to see again and one we will treasure if we don't.

The people are in his blood, and he is in theirs.

For the set list, click here.

Don Ketchum is a sportswriter for the Arizona Republic who has been a huge fan of Gord's for more than 35 years and has interviewed him and written reviews many times before. This review is exclusive to this web site.

©2007 by Don Ketchum



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