In May 2011, Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot marked his 150th concert at Toronto’s Massey Hall over the last 40 years. With his new Massey Hall Moments: All Live, the performer who counted Robbie Robertson and Bob Dylan among his fans presents some of his finer musical moments from the historical site.
The songs were selected from performances between 1998 and 2001, so the window is a fairly small one, but that doesn’t diminish from the quality of the performances. Lightfoot’s well-known, smooth baritone is rich and pensive in all the right places, lending a degree of intimacy that few artists muster. For Canadians, Lightfoot’s work has painted a picture across the Great White North. His songs have examined history, the open road and the open heart with uncommon gentleness, but nothing about the 73-year-old rings false. Inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986, Gordon Lightfoot is one of the biggest pieces to the Canadian music puzzle.
Massey Hall Moments: All Live is a remarkable way to get back in touch with the legend. The songs are presented as authentic live mixes, without overdubs and without mixing. This gives the music a decidedly earthy feel, as if each number is being rolled out for the first time through the speakers.
It’s hard to say that there are any Lightfoot classics missing from All Live. Kicking things off with “14 Karat Gold,” recorded at Massey Hall in May of 1998, is a wise choice. The line “Please understand if I don’t talk too loud” seems to sum up Lightfoot in a particularly eloquent fashion, while his 12-string is almost mystical and engaging.
“If You Could Read My Mind” makes an appearance, of course. It is, in this writer’s view, one of the loveliest pieces of music ever written. Here, Lightfoot is accompanied by delicate strings. The Sit Down Young Stranger standout is one of his most recognized tunes and revisiting it in the sonic confines of Massey Hall confirms why.
Other Lightfoot hits, like “Early Morning Rain,” “Carefree Highway” and “Sundown,” reveal a slightly more raucous side of the laidback songwriter. And the scope and haunting elegance of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” appears in all its Dorian mode glory.
Massey Hall Moments: All Live captures one of Canada’s best at his best. Lightfoot truly is a national treasure and these songs illustrate his influence over folk and popular music. His modest nature shines through and his unappeasable thirst for more stories and more songs will carry him on — just as his legacy will carry us through.
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