You have to cut Glen Campbell some slack these days — but not much. He was in excellent form Tuesday night (Jan. 3) during a 70-minute concert of his classic hits and newer material at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
The Country Music Hall of Fame member is deep into a farewell tour after announcing last year he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He has concerts booked through the end of June, but after acknowledging he suffers from memory loss, the big question surrounding the tour is whether he’s still capable of providing a solid performance.
Based on his Ryman appearance, the answer is a resounding yes.
He relies on computer monitors near the front of the stage to prompt him on the lyrics. Granted, there were a few minor fumbles on specific words as he sang, but he always quickly recovered and put the audience at ease by acknowledging the glitches with a humorous comment or facial expression.
As far as the actual vocal performance, though, he has no problem hitting all the right notes — even the high ones on his cover version of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe.” Although his voice isn’t quite as supple as it was during his hitmaking prime of the ’60s and ’70s, that’s attributable to age rather than any specific medical condition. At age 75, he still has a vocal range and power that few younger singers will ever achieve — with or without their ProTools and autotuning programs.
Interestingly, while it appears Campbell has to work a little harder on the lyrics these days, his skills as a guitarist remain undiminished. Opening with “Gentle on My Mind,” when it came time for the instrumental break, he stood back from the microphone and was knocking out a Wes Montgomery-inspired octave solo with undeniable authority. His complex single-string leads and background fills throughout the concert served as a reminder that his early career in Los Angeles included a stint in the Wrecking Crew, a core group of musicians who played on countless hits for other artists during the ’60s. He was — and is — an incredible player.
After “Gentle on My Mind,” he quickly moved to the familiar guitar riff of “Galveston” and followed it with “Try a Little Kindness,” a hit from 1969. Looking at the computer monitor, he jokingly read, “Glen, play long solo.” He gladly complied.
“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” came next, followed by a more obscure single from 1969, “Where’s the Playground Susie.” Those two songs, as well as “Galveston,” were written by Jimmy Webb, but one of the show’s highlights was another Webb composition, “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress,” backed only by a keyboardist.
Campbell’s opening act and backing band was Instant People, a quartet featuring three of his children — daughter Ashley and sons Cal and Shannon. Ashley, who played keyboards, guitar and banjo, joined her father for “Dueling Banjos,” the song made famous in the 1972 film, Deliverance.
After the instrumental, Campbell left the stage briefly to allow the band to perform their version of one of his early hits, “Hey Little One.” He returned to the stage to sing three songs from his most recent album, Ghost on the Canvas. In addition to the Paul Westerberg-written title track, he also chose “It’s Your Amazing Grace” and “Any Trouble.” He closed the show with “Rhinestone Cowboy” and did a two-song encore of other songs from Ghost on the Canvas — “In My Arms” and “A Better Place.”
With the Ryman appearance likely to be Campbell’s final full-fledged concert in Nashville, a sense of history underscored Tuesday night’s show. Above all, though, it was a great evening of music expertly performed by one of country’s true legends. What more could you possibly ask for?
“Gentle on My Mind”
“Try a Little Kindness”
“By the Time I Get to Phoenix”
“Where’s the Playground Susie”
“I Can’t Stop Loving You”
“Hey Little One” (Instant People)
“Ghost on the Canvas”
“It’s Your Amazing Grace”
“It’s Only Make Believe”
“The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress”
“In My Arms”
“A Better Place”