For our anniversary this year (27 years... OO-Rah!), I bought us tickets to see Gordon Lightfoot in concert at Tulsa's Mabee Center (on the campus of Oral Roberts University, within sight of the gigantic praying hands scupture and the notorious Prayer Tower).
It was a show perfect in its simplicity... just Gordon and a small 4-man band of very accomplished musicians (one keyboard, one lead/rhythm guitar, drum and bass). They played two forty-five minute sets, with a twenty minute break in the middle. The sound was immaculate, which is to say that one didn't notice the sound system at all. It sounded as if the musicians were just playing inside your head.
Can he hit all the high notes like he could when he was a comparative youngster of fifty or sixty? No. Was it a great show, anyway? Heck yeah, even though he was apparently fighting off a cold (I couldn't tell). Did he get called out for two encores with standing ovations? Yes indeed, though he merely gave a grateful bow on the second. The man is seventy, and stood ramrod straight for the entire show... no seated numbers at all.
He suffered some kind of burst blood vessel in his abdomen several years ago, and this is (I believe) his first major tour since (*Correction* - a commenter below informs me that G.L. has been touring since 2004, and that this is his third such tour since then). The incident should have killed him, but he was in good condition and that helped him stay alive and recover (according to one interview I scoped on YouTube).
The crowd loved him, and gratefully cheered the opening chords of nearly every song, as nearly every song in his hefty catalog is instantly recognizable (who wouldn't recognize the first few bars of Sundown, with its ringing guitar and prowling bass line?).
He told a few tales and dropped a few names (Elvis, Jerry Jeff Walker, Kris Kristofferson), but the evening was all about the music. There may technically be better musicians, but the man just has the gift for crafting enduring songs. They are uniquely his, too. They have been recorded by others, but never improved on. The show, like Gordon Lightfoot's music, was deeply and satisfyingly human on every level.
He did perform the haunting Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerqald, and so I could forgive him somewhat for leaving Canadian Railroad Trilogy out of the mix. Trilogy is probably my favorite of all his work - one of my favorite historical songs, period - and it was sorely missed, but Edmund Fitzgerqald is like his Stairway to Heaven... he would probably get lynched if he didn't sing that.
As I say, the crowd loved him, and he loved them back. I think he was perhaps a little surprised at the level of enthusiasm. I suppose a traveling musician may not know exactly what to expect when rolling into Tulsa, or many towns throughout Flyover Country, but this sold-out crowd of Boomers knew all his songs by heart. He and his music have stuck around long enough to weather his Can't Get Arrested phase and he is now deservedly enjoying his Living Legend phase.
Singers and pop stars come and go. The songs either endure, or they fade along with all the other cultural flotsam that marked their native decade. The music of Gordon Lightfoot will be around a long time after the man himself is laid to rest under the Canadian peat.