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Old 11-29-2021, 08:59 PM   #1
Join Date: May 2000
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Default Massey - Lightfoot Nov.25,26,27, 2021 - report/setlists/videos/photos/reviews

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Gordon Lightfoot makes ‘emotional’ return to Massey Hall as iconic Toronto venue reopens after renovation


Closed three years for $184-million dollars’ worth of renovation and expansion, Toronto’s Massey Hall reopened on Thursday night with a concert by Gordon Lightfoot. Among other things, the ceiling has been fixed – there used to be chicken wire up there to reinforce the crumbling plaster. Onstage for the first of the three concerts, the 83-year-old Lightfoot told the crowd about the steel plate in the wrist he had recently broken.

The things we do to keep our beloved relics from falling apart.

The grand happening began as so many of our events do these days, with checks of vaccination status. A long line of people ran from the familiar red doors of the 127-year-old building on Shuter Street south down Victoria Street past the new building, which abuts the old. The whole complex is called the Allied Music Centre.

Once in, one notices the front hallway is newly named the Weston Family Foyer. It is a better title (but less descriptive) than what I would call “the bottleneck.” The main hall – which has hosted the likes of Jack Dempsey, Enrico Caruso, and, at least 170 times, the all-Canadian troubadour Lightfoot – is now emblazoned as the Allan Slaight Auditorium & Stage, thanks to a substantial donation from a charitable foundation created by the late media mogul and music-loving philanthropist.

Massey Hall is named after another philanthropist, Hart Massey. His descendants in the audience took in a trio of commemorative speeches, including words from Mayor John Tory. He declared Thursday to be Gordon Lightfoot Day before presenting him with a key to the city. His voice breaking, the musician said the evening was an “emotional experience.”

Jesse Kumagai, president and chief executive officer of Massey and Roy Thomson halls, spoke first. He hailed the venue as a “space that’s brought us closer together for more than 127 years,” before noting that the renovations were not quite finished: “We hope you will forgive our imperfections.”

After an upbeat opening set by American folk singer and old Lightfoot friend Tom Rush, the main attraction sang 15 songs with his four-piece band. Sporting a maroon velvet smoking jacket, Lightfoot strummed Gibson acoustic guitars, both 12-string and six-string models. He was in wizened and winded voice, his autumnal baritone and fluttering vibrato a thing of the past.

The arrangements were tasteful; Lightfoot’s performances on a set list that included Sundown, Beautiful and Early Morning Rain were careful. On Carefree Highway, he sang about things that had seen better days. Any imperfections of his were undoubtedly forgiven.

In 2002, Lightfoot nearly died after an abdominal aneurysm. His larynx hasn’t been the same since the surgery that saved his life. His diaphragm lost its oomph. Everything about him now is small, gaunt and frail, except for his songs and spirit.

A Globe and Mail review of a Lightfoot concert at Massey Hall in 1969 included some of the balladeer’s banter. “You know, it’s really great to be back on this stage,” he said. “You can wander off around … but here in Massey Hall is my home.”

For many Toronto music fans and others, Massey is home. It is a testament to the renovators that the venue feels both unchanged and significantly upgraded. The extra lounges and washrooms in the new south building will ease the congestion, tears and confusion caused by the ones in the old building. An elevated wraparound terrace of seating at the back and sides of the auditorium floor does much for sightlines. And if the added legroom and wider seats cut down the room’s capacity from 2,754 to 2,550, the costs saved on knee replacement surgeries will be worth it.

The judgments of opening-night attendees were mostly positive. “The restoration is lovely, and the new balcony bar is a big improvement,” said Sarah Ptak, whose first Massey experience was a Crowded House concert in 1994. “I’m so happy to be back home.”

David Herle’s first concert at the venue was a show by Little Village in 1992. “I love the detailing,” he said about the new look. “The stained glass windows are great.”

Of the cosmetic changes, the stained glass is indeed a revelation. Covered up long ago but now revealed, the windows give a churchy feel to the music room. “They’re spectacular,” said diehard Lightfoot fan Charlene Westbrook. She made her first visit to Massey to see Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge in 1973. “Gord got up and sang Bobby McGee that night.”

On this night, Lightfoot sang his own material, including Home From the Forest, which he wrote in the 1960s. He no longer performs it very often. The song is supposedly inspired by a homeless veteran who wanted to sleep near the Massey Hall box office one winter night. Turned away, he froze to death: “Oh the neon lights were flashing, and the icy wind did blow.”

Not all of Lightfoot’s legends are from the Chippewa on down.

In his prime, Lightfoot’s role was as a folky recollector of bygone days. Now he’s more of a recollection than a recollector. Nostalgia does the heavy lifting for him, not that there’s anything wrong with an appreciation for history.

Set list
The Watchman’s Gone

Now and Then

Carefree Highway


14 Karat Gold

If You Could Read My Mind

Fine as Fine Can Be

Home From the Forest


Song for a Winter’s Night

Baby Step Back

Race Among the Ruins

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Early Morning Rain

Encore: Waiting for You
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