“I’m Gordon Lightfoot, and reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” said Gordon Lightfoot, introducing himself to the crowd at BergenPAC in Englewood, Aug. 8. The veteran singer-songwriter had been the subject of a rather widespread Internet death hoax in 2010.
It was another kind of rumor that I was more concerned with, though. After writing a post about how much I was looking forward to this show, several people had warned me that Lightfoot’s voice was not in great shape, and that I shouldn’t get my hopes up too much.
They were right — to an extent. Lightfoot’s voice, once so rich and resonant, has indeed grown thin and weak. He is now 78, and has had some serious health issues over the last 15 years.
And yet, I’m glad I went. On many songs, there were flashes of his former vocal charm. And on certain songs — “Cold on the Shoulder” in the first half of the show, for instance, and “A Painter Passing Through,” in the second half — he was able to sustain it more or less all the way through. His band, featuring longtime collaborators such as bassist Rick Haynes and keyboardist Mike Heffernan, was absolutely first-rate.
Furthermore … he’s GORDON LIGHTFOOT, someone who, as I mentioned in the earlier post, I’ve been in awe of for decades, but had never previously managed to see in concert.
He seemed to enjoy being there — he says he still does 75 or 80 shows a year, just because he likes it — and told some stories, including one about the time he almost met Elvis Presley (who had recorded two of his songs). He mentioned that he had played BergenPAC just 14 months ago, and so would veer from his usual setlist and do some more obscure material — a nice, thoughtful gesture.
Still, he sang all of his biggest hits: “Sundown,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Carefree Highway.”
And so, no, it was not the Gordon Lightfoot concert experience of my wildest dreams. But I got to hear all those songs and — I know this is going to sound corny — spend a couple of hours in the presence of a great artist. That is, after all, part of what concert-going is all about.