April 29, 2012

Glen Campbell gives bittersweet performance on farewell tour

When it was finally time for Glen Campbell to sing “Wichita Lineman” on the Orpheum Theatre stage on Sunday night, he was 16 songs into his hourlong set, and he was tired.

When it was finally time for Glen Campbell to sing “Wichita Lineman” on the Orpheum Theatre stage on Sunday night, he was 16 songs into his hourlong set, and he was tired.

He wondered aloud, as he had many times that night, which song was next.

It’s one of your favorites, his longtime keyboard player, T.J. Kuenster, told him.

“Yours or mine?” Campbell asked.

“Everyone’s,” Kuenster said. “I think they’ve been waiting all night on this song.”

Then he remembered.

“This is for all the Wichita people here,” Campbell said, and the familiar first guitar notes of the iconic song that’s not exactly about Wichita – but close enough – followed.

The sold-out crowd of 1,200 was on its feet, and no one seemed to care that the 76-year-old Campbell – who’s soldiering through his “Goodbye Tour” despite an Alzheimer’s diagnosis that makes his stage presence unpredictable – switched up some lyrics in the famous song, missed the guitar solo and needed to be reminded to sing the second verse.

The show was bittersweet for his fans, who were entertained on Sunday by Campbell’s enduring charm, unfailingly strong vocal range and guitar mastery that hasn’t diminished, even as his memory has.

Members of the crowd applauded every guitar solo, shouted encouragement and ignored the fact that Campbell needed to read the lyrics to his famous songs from on-stage monitors positioned on the floor.

“I am happy to be here,” said a smiling, almost giddy Campbell, shortly after he took the stage. “I’m happy to be anywhere.”

Campbell, whose backup band included three of his grown children, made it through most of his set without many stumbles. He joked, danced and smiled. He also frequently wandered around the stage, faced away from the crowd, and requested musical adjustments in the middle of songs.

He opened with “Gentle on My Mind,” followed by “Galveston,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Try a Little Kindness.”

The show had several highlights, including a two-song run in which Campbell seemed completely himself.

After performing a cover of the Hank Williams hit “Lovesick Blues,” every yodeling note in perfect pitch, he launched into a foot-stomping pick-off of “Dueling Banjos” with his 24-year-old daughter, Ashley. (But not before he bragged about her straight A’s at Pepperdine.)

Before singing “True Grit,” the theme song from the 1969 Western film Campbell appeared in with John Wayne, he did a spot-on imitation of the famous cowboy.

Campbell’s vocals were on display during the Jimmy Webb ballad “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress,” which he performed alone with Kuenster backing him up on keyboard. The song was haunting, and several audience members wiped away tears.

Campbell ended the show with two of his biggest hits – “Rhinestone Cowboy” and a lively rendition of “Southern Nights.”

His final song was “A Better Place,” a song from his most recent and final album, 2011’s “Ghost on the Canvas.”

Its lyrics:

“One thing I know

The world’s been good to me

A better place awaits, you’ll see

Some days I’m so confused, Lord

My past gets in my way

I need the ones I love, Lord

More and more each day.”

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