Glen Campbell, Comerica Theatre, 2/18/12
Saturday, February 18
Going in, there was a fear that Glen Campbell's Goodbye Tour concert would devolve into little more than a nostalgia act. That Campbell, struggling with the early onset of Alzheimer's disease, would duly try his best to work through carefully guarded and pre-arranged songs with the minimum effort.
Fortunately, those fears were laid to rest with the opening number, "Gentle On My Mind." Campbell, dressed in black pants, boots, shirt and sparkly jacket, tightened his jaw and completely nailed the solo -- though he looked a little relived when it was over.
"I'm happy to be here," he told the large, multigenerational crowd. "I'm happy to be anywhere."
But as he stuttered over his next words, bringing back the fear that the disease would affect his abilities as a showman, Campbell showed that his wit was as sharp as ever, even if he stammered getting it out. "Ya'll remember Mel Tillis," he smiled, recalling the stuttering county star. This self-effacing humor kept the evening light as the hits rolled on by.
Campbell then got gritty with the lead on "Galveston," sensual with "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," and followed that with a country-style rock-out in "Try A Little Tenderness" as his backing band -- Instant People, featuring three of his children, Shannon (guitar), Cal (drums) and Ashley (keyboards and banjo) -- kicked things up a notch.
Throughout the 70-minute set, Campbell moved easily through hits, including "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "I Can't Stop Loving You." When he was picking, his fingers floated across the fretboard with ease from years of repetition (but clearly still with passion, while his voice, though naturally, at 75, lacking the range of youth, still carried that distinctive timbre and unmistakable drawl whether warbling on "Wichita Lineman," crooning "Where's the Playground Susie?" or yodeling up a storm on Hank Williams' "Lonesome Blues."
Campbell also tackled several songs from his newest album, Ghost on the Canvas. He admitted performing them wasn't as easy as the tried-and-true hits but, always the professional, reassuringly declared, "Actually, I rehearsed a lot for this. I want ya'll to know that."
Both the rollicking "Any Trouble" and only slightly more subdued "Amazing Grace" sounded as familiar and strong as anything Campbell might have composed during his 1960s heyday.
After these two, Campbell put the guitar down to tackle "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress," one of the many songs this evening composed by Jimmy Webb. "I wouldn't be here without Jimmy Webb," he claimed several times during the performance. While that seems unlikely, given Campbell's songwriting and guitar skills that date back to early studio sessions on numerous records -- as well as becoming an unofficial Beach Boy while filling in for Brian Wilson on many occasions. But Webb's songs were the perfect catalyst for Campbell, who clearly feels indebted to the man for a brilliant career spanning nearly 60 years.
But if there is any sadness that this career is ending, waylaid by Alzheimer's, Campbell's newest songs ask that we don't worry (though we should never give up hope), and that it's all as God planned. He knows, he sings, that he's going to "A Better Place" -- his final song of the evening, and first on Ghost on the Canvas. "Some days I get so confused Lord / The past gets in the way . . . The world's been good to me / A better place awaits you'll see."
With this final nod, Campbell, in essence, has assured us has come to terms with what is happening and where he's heading. "A Better Place" was a fitting way to cap his final concert in his adopted hometown -- a goodbye, without really ever leaving.