Forty years of rock ‘n’ roll

Quintessential Canadian rockers Lighthouse make a triumphant return to Kingston

The current 10-person incarnation of Lighthouse has rotated through over 100 members since the release of one of their first records, Can You Hear It? in 1973.
The current 10-person incarnation of Lighthouse has rotated through over 100 members since the release of one of their first records, Can You Hear It? in 1973.

Canada’s first platinum record passed from hand-to-hand in the green room of the Grand Theatre on Saturday night as the 10 current members put their signatures on Lighthouse Live!

Formed in 1969 when Skip Prokop and Paul Hoffert decided they wanted to start a rock band that incorporated jazz horns and classical strings, Lighthouse burst onto the Canadian music scene. Despite numerous changes to the band’s lineup, the current musical roster has been together for 17 years.

“There have been over 100 different members of Lighthouse,” said Doug Moore, the band’s sixth and current bass-player.

“And I’m the fourth vocalist,” chimed in Dan Clancy, who provides the lead vocals, rhythm guitar and percussion for the band.

The two men laughed back and forth talking about the band and the experience of being part of a Canadian music monument. Taking a moment between jokes to talk about the band’s history, the two stated that Lighthouse has won four Junos, including three for Canadian Group of the Year.

Then, in walked Paul Hoffert, an ordinary-looking man except for his one long braid of hair on the back of his head. He struck a sagacious pose and down-played his immense musical credentials.

Here was a man who has won Junos, written books and taught as a professor at Harvard claiming that he was simply “paid to hit things.” Serving as Lighthouse’s keyboardist, vibraphone player, producer and “sonic percussionist,” Hoffert helped found the band and still keeps “many irons in the fire” when it comes to music.

As I met more of the members it became abundantly clear that I’d never been in a room so full of musical laurels.

They played the show at Princess St’s Grand Theatre, and the opulent setting was a perfect match for a band that’s equal parts symphony and rock. Ushers showed the diverse, but generally older, crowd to their seats and I couldn’t help but notice the seemingly equal proportions of the middle-aged patrons in their Sunday finest, and others in their ragtag hockey jerseys.

The Grand boasts excellent acoustics, and when the band came out amid a thunderous applause, everyone could hear Skip, the drummer and founder, trying to figure out his “high tech mic.”

The show began with Dan Clancy showing off his amazing vocal range on “Take it Slow”, a title that belies the song. The combined blast of drums and four horns filled up the theatre as Lighthouse got into stride, playing a host of their biggest hits.

Ralph Cole’s guitar got off to a rocky start, but when the catchy lead of “Broken Guitar Blues” came racing out, our faith in his abilities was restored.

Nowhere was this truer than in the lengthy, winding solos of “Lonely Places,” a song about the trials of living on the road. Very nearly every member of the band took an opportunity to showcase their talent.

I was struck by the obvious difference between a young, up-and-coming band and one comprised of seasoned veterans. For a young band, you get to see their skill and you’re excited for how they’ll improve and expand, but for the vets, it’s different. They’re as good as they’re likely to get, and their performance becomes a showcase of expertise and technique that’s been well earned. Their teeth are already cut, and they know what works.

Prokop kept a steady rhythm while Hoffert stepped up to his vibraphone, a specialized kind of xylophone, and began tinkering along. The tempo quickened every time he paused so Skip could dash in a clever fill and Hoffert could re-attack his instrument with renewed speed and intricacy.

We were seeing masters at work, and it was impressive. The crowd erupted when “Sunny Days” started, and Clancy did some trite, but endearing crowd-work during the refrain. When he told just the Queen’s students to sing along, I gave particular energy.

The show progressed with more selections from Lighthouse’s catalogue of hits, and Clancy put his immaculate singing voice on display. The low-point came from a lengthy trombone solo that was more gaudy than impressive, but it didn’t ruin the momentum Lighthouse had picked up.

When the band took a moment to introduce each member before the final song, applause stalled the show for some time and when Prokop got his nod, the crowd’s standing ovation seemed endless.

Coaxed back on stage for an encore, the band took time to thank everyone for coming out, as well as friends who had travelled from far away to see them perform. Clancy also shouted out a thanks to his youngest son, who was one of the Queen’s students in the crowd.

The crowd filed out smiling, happy to have been able to hear the songs they loved from the band they grew up with. We had all just seen an expert show from a band that helped put Canada on the musical map and the excitement was palpable.

“Do you know Lighthouse well?” I asked the man sitting next to me.

He shot me a condescending glare, “I’m Canadian. And there’s your answer.”

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