“Ribbon of Darkness,” Syd said last night as we listened to Gordon Lightfoot in the Interior Savings Centre. “He’s gotta do Ribbon of Darkness.”
Sure enough, after opening with a few of his lesser-known songs, he turned to what he called his “more familiar” material, including Ribbon of Darkness.
“Early Mornin’ Rain,” said Syd. “He’s gotta do Early Mornin’ Rain.” After sitting on edge for awhile longer, there it was, Early Mornin’ Rain.
“If You Could Read My Mind,” Syd said. “He’s gotta do If You Could Read My Mind.”
“No,” I said. “Edmund Fitzgerald. He’s gotta do Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
I’d come prepared to be disappointed. At 73, how good could Gordon Lightfoot be? He’ll probably have some second-rate band open for him, then come on stage and massacre his oldies with an attempt at re-inventing them, I thought. But no, it was all Lightfoot, vintage Lightfoot.
I bought my first Gordon Lightfoot LP when I was 18. I remember that day, I remember the store, I remember the thrill of putting it on my old record player. I still have it. Little did I know Syd had fallen in love with Gordon Lightfoot when she was barely out of Kindergarten. After 28 years of marriage, we’re still finding things we have in common.
His distinctive, reedy voice isn’t as strong as it used to be, but it didn’t matter. It was like family coming back together after being apart for many years, the crowd quickly warming to this man who has made such a mark on Canadian music.
I almost missed Edmund Fitzgerald. He opened the second set with it while I was visiting the men’s room. The audience thought they’d died and gone to heaven, borne on the wings of the greatest balladeer in our country’s history. And his voice, rather than weakening, grew stronger in the second half, bolstered, perhaps, by Lightfoot’s increasing sense of comfort with an appreciative house.
“Railroad Trilogy,” said Syd. “He’s gotta do Canadian Railroad Trilogy.”
“Encore,” I said. “He’s saving it for the encore. Big finish.”
Of course he would do Railroad Trilogy for his encore. Money in the bank. A given.
Two hours after he’d started, the concert was over, too soon, and Lightfoot and his four-piece band left the stage. The audience stood, the applause and cheering reached its crescendo, and Lightfoot and his band came back. Now, time for Railroad Trilogy.
“This one is a toe tapper,” he said. “We’re gonna tap our way outta here.”
Toe tapper? Railroad Trilogy is many things, but it’s not a toe tapper.
No, it was Blackberry Wine, a toe tapper for sure, but not Canadian Railroad Trilogy. He finished up and walked off the stage again. The crowd cheered. Now, for the big finale, the return to stage for Railroad Trilogy.
Nothing. The crowd got up and started to file out. Syd and I stared at each other.
“Impossible,” she said.
“It can’t be,” I said. “How could he not finish with Railroad Trilogy?”
After all hope had fled, we, too, dejectedly left the building. It was the single disappointment in an otherwise lovely evening. That, and the fact there was no kiosk flogging CDs. Syd really wanted that CD.
Listening to Syd singing Railroad Trilogy on the way home, complete with her own rendition of the instrumentals, wasn’t the same. Better than nothing, mind you, but what we’d yearned for, expected, were sure of, was Gordon Lightfoot performing the greatest Canadian ballad of all time.
Despite that, everyone who was there is thankful for his first-ever Kamloops concert. In the shower this morning, I found myself belting out Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.