If only you could read Gordon Lightfoot's mind. At Wolf Trap last summer, no one seemed less enthused about Lightfoot's music than Lightfoot himself; song after song was delivered indifferently. And last night at Merriweather Post Pavilion, Lightfoot confessed that he quit in the middle of his second set the night before in Saratoga, N.Y. "Why? I don't know why," he said with a shrug.
Whatever the reason, the unscheduled rest seems to have worked wonders. In fine voice and in a goodnaturedly feisty mood, Lightfoot never sounded better. Throughout his neatly trimmed performance, the singer's grainy baritone was handsomely offset by the rustic sonorities of 12-string and pedal steel guitarists.
More importantly, Lightfoot really seemed to be enjoying his performance and was careful not to flub or mumble the lyrics; each song was rendered clearly and carefully in an evening that spanned minstrel ballads, seafaring epics, Leroy Van Dyke's ancient "Auctioneer," and a nifty medley of hits including "Sundown."
Naturally, a voice as stylized and distinctive as Lightfoot's can create a certain sameness in concert. But the singer paced himself wisely, mixing some fine songs from his new album with some of his oldest narratives, including the timeless "Canadian Railroad Trilogy." Guitarist Terry Clements also added flashes of color and Lightfoot's occasional asides and anecdotes prevented things from becoming too subdued.