Glen Campbell | 09.09.11

The 75-year-old was quick to turn the charm right back on with a confidence that was no doubt fueled by the fact that most of the band members were his children.

The Bezemes Family Theatre
St. Charles, Mo.

There was absolutely no mistaking it. The pre-show vibe at the Glen Campbell concert wasn’t quite subdued, but it wouldn’t be accurate to describe it as celebratory, either. It was a curiously mixed atmosphere; half smiles of anticipation, half-friendly whispers of concern. After all, it was announced back in June that Mr. Campbell was diagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. This was soon followed up with the news that he would be embarking on a “Goodbye Tour,” one last trek around the globe to say farewell to a fan base that followed him for most of their adult lives. The truth is, no one really knew what to expect this time around. Would he forget lyrics? Would there be awkward pauses as his fingers searched for notes that were found so easily just two years before?
Then something special happened. Mr. Campbell was introduced, and as he walked out on the stage, guitar slung over his shoulders and grinning ear-to-ear, the audience was immediately put at ease. Of course, it wasn’t just Glen Campbell walking onto that stage, it was the flood of memories from his legendary career that followed him out there. After all, this was the member of the famed Wrecking Crew who played sessions for Elvis, Sinatra, and The Beach Boys, his guitar blanketing such songs as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Strangers in the Night,” “Good Vibrations,” and “Viva Las Vegas.” This was the entertainer who had a successful TV show, topped the charts with his own hits, and even acted alongside John Wayne in True Grit. But even though celebrating his history was an integral part of the night, this mostly card-carrying AARP crowd wasn’t just here for a nostalgia trip.
With the audience still in standing ovation-mode, Campbell’ six-piece band kicked the night off with the rolling rhythms of his 1967 single, “Gentle on My Mind.” “Galveston” came next, with Campbell assuming a rock star pose at the lip of the stage for the first of many solos of the night. Even though he occasionally had trouble with song lyrics provided by a teleprompter, it was his guitar playing that showed no signs of age, and no signs of illness. With no effects to mute the purity of his playing, his musicianship and tasteful note selection would be an inspiration to any would-be guitar hero. In fact, his solo on “Try a Little Kindness” was absolutely stunning in its fire and virtuosity. These were sharecropper’s hands, painting pictures and telling stories gleaned from a lifetime of living the highest highs and surviving the lowest lows.
Occasionally, during the show, the effects of his illness would become slightly apparent: a forgotten lyric here or there, or uncertainty about what key a solo was in. He even walked over and chewed out his stage-left sound guy when he couldn’t hear his monitors. Nevertheless, the 75-year-old was quick to turn the charm right back on again with a confidence that was no doubt fueled by the fact that most of the band members were his children. Two of his kids backed him up on acoustic guitar, taking time off from their Arcade Fire-influenced band Instant People. His daughter Ashley played banjo, and joined her father center stage on “Dueling Banjos” and “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.” This section of the show in particular wouldn’t have been out of place on the old Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, with the two exchanging an easy camaraderie and obvious affection.
His self-effacing humor was still present and accounted for, with jokes about his acting experience with his True Grit co-star (“I made The Duke look so good, he won the Oscar!”) and his own mortality (I’m lucky to be here. I’m lucky to be anywhere.”). He even included Elvis in his introduction to “It’s Only Make Believe” (“Elvis should have done this song.”) before launching into a great impersonation of The King. He got down with the only real successful country-dance experiment ever with “Southern Nights,” and paid homage to his friend, legendary tunesmith Jimmy Webb. Unsurprisingly, some of the best moments of the show were Webb songs such as “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” and the heartbreakingly beautiful “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.” By the time his daughter Debbie introduced the band and the spotlight hit the disco ball for “Rhinestone Cowboy,” everyone knew they had gotten what they came for and savored every last second of it. The concert wrapped up with two tracks from Campbell’s wonderful new album Ghost on the Canvas, “A Better Place” and “It’s Your Amazing Grace,” both fitting codas to send the satisfied crowd out into the rainy night.
Not many artists have the opportunity to write the last chapter of their story. Glen Campbell proved it can be done with grace, dignity, and heart. It was a more than fitting way to say goodbye. | Jim Ousley



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