Director Bob Fosse gave his cinematic alter ego, the womanizing, amphetamine-popping Joe Gideon, a splashy showbiz send-off in the1979 semi-autobiographical film All That Jazz, staging a musical finale that enabled Gideon to bid farewell to everyone in his life before meeting Death, in the comely form of Jessica Lange.
There is a slight reminder of that glittering, Fosse-style adieu dogging Glen Campbell’s ongoing The Goodbye Tour – and that’s not such a bad thing. The international trek commenced around the time that the country legend and his family revealed his battle with Alzheimer’s disease, a crushing diagnosis which also influenced Campbell’s final, reflective new album, Ghost On the Canvas. Since Campbell is already struggling with the debilitating effects of AD, the notion of this great guitarist, a one-time force in the famed Wrecking Crew of superlative session musicians, taking on a lengthy tour seemed imprudent or maudlin, perhaps even detrimental.
However, when Campbell played New York’s sold-out Town Hall (New York) on Saturday night, the 70-minute, hit-heavy concert was far from grim; it was a celebration, an earnest exchange of love, appreciation and respect between the 75-year-old musician and an admiring audience, a mix of urban cowboys, grey-haired fans who’ve followed him over 50 years and far younger music aficionados, keenly aware that this would be the last time to see the man onstage.
Campbell, decked out at the show’s start in a cobalt blue jacket embroidered with rhinestones, was greeted by a thunderous standing ovation. He beamed boyishly and his backing sextet, which included his children — keyboardist/banjo player Ashley, guitarist Shannon and drummer Cal — and Campbell’s longtime music director, T.J. Kuenster, seemed as touched by the singer’s exuberant reaction as they were by the crowd’s generous reception.
A misanthropic observer could tick down a list of issues that Campbell faced this evening. Yes, teleprompters hugged the lip of the stage, helping him follow lyrics no matter where he strode, lines of songs were occasionally fumbled, jokes sometimes went awry and, in one heartbreaking moment, Campbell seemed confused that his own song, ‘It’s Your Amazing Grace’, was not the traditional hymn until gently corrected by his daughter. But, for the most part, Campbell ably and proudly traveled through selected covers and his best-known hits — like a rousing ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, ‘Gentle On My Mind’, ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ and ‘Galveston’ — with breezy assurance. A crackling version of ‘Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)’ was especially sunny and sleek and new tracks, like the Paul Westerberg-penned ‘Ghost On the Canvas’, unfurled as fiercely poignant testaments.
As a guitarist, Campbell remains powerful and undiminished — his youthful, rugged swagger was clearly evident every time he slung an instrument around his body. He seemed most grounded when effortlessly building breathtakingly complex solos, elevating ‘Galveston’ to a transcendent plane of longing and athletically (and competitively) matching his daughter Ashley, his guitar versus her banjo, on a fiery cover of ‘Dueling Banjos’.
While it seemed that the Jimmy Webb classic ‘Wichita Lineman’ could easily be the most sentimental selection of the evening, it was actually one of Campbell’s new songs, ‘A Better Place’, which he co-wrote with Ghost On The Canvas producer Julian Raymond, that brought the evening home most eloquently and emotionally. When Campbell, surrounded by his attentive children, bandmates and a wildly supportive crowd, humbly crooned, “The world is good to me,” it was indisputable that his decision to say farewell in such a brave, defiant and entertaining way was the only road this proud, talented showman could have possibly taken.