September 21, 2011
Stafford, TX USA
Review by Lisa Miller
Photos by Jamie Miller
Heading to the Stafford Center outside of Houston, I was filled with a myriad of emotions knowing I was about to witness Glen Campbell's very last tour after 50 years of entertainment. He had been a fixture on my family's turntable from early childhood on, and his performance alongside John Wayne in True Grit, was for a lack of a better term, ‘true grit'. With magical songs like "Gentle on My Mind" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", as well as a weekly TV variety show, I admit to having a school girl crush on this iconic singer. It hasn't waned to this day. I may have grown up, gotten married and had children, but tonight I was unselfishly going to relive the wonderful soundtrack of my past with this legendary figure and enjoy every second of it.
When I arrived at the venue, I found I wasn't alone in my admiration for this Country Hall of Fame performer. The audience, primarily made up of what I'd lovingly call the Hee-Haw / Grand Ol' Opry blue-hair set, was buzzing with excitement. Yes we were all aware of Glen's current medical condition (or at least 99 percent of us were). Earlier this summer, Campbell revealed he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He even went on television to discuss his situation with Diane Sawyer. Those thoughts were certainly on the minds of many attending the show, nervously hoping his performance wouldn't be affected by the debilitating disease.
Before the hero of our affection took the stage, the Indie pop band from Los Angeles, Instant People, started things off. They opened up a tad nervous and a bit high strung, but that quickly dissipated as the five band members found their groove. By the end of their set, this group of musicians proved to be quite accomplished both lyrically and musically. Then again, that's understandable considering three of the band members were Campbell's own children. Daughter Ashley expertly plays the banjo while her brothers, Shannon and Cal, handle guitar and drums. It was even more appropriate that this group also served as Glen's backup band. Another Campbell, Debbie his daughter, would contribute backing vocals during Glen's show to truly make this a family affair.
There isn't much you can say about Glen Campbell's life that has been documented on the screen, in tabloids, books, or in the more than 75 records he's recorded over the course of his remarkable career. He recently released his very last studio album, Ghost on the Canvas, has been getting rave reviews around the country. Four cuts from the album were performed throughout the course of the evening, including two songs Campbell wrote, "A Better Place" and "It's Your Amazing Grace." Best of all, outside of one minor hiccup on the title cut of the new record, the show proceeded without incident. Outside of a teleprompter, and occasional onstage jests about his absent-mindedness, you'd never know anything was wrong.
I'm sure some people will dismiss Campbell as somewhat a shadow of his once glorious self, but for 75 years of age, no one expects this icon to exactly recreate his past. The warm and comforting sound of this ‘rhinestone cowboy's' voice is still as vibrant as ever. The opening set of songs "Gentle on My Mind", "Galveston" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" served to remind this crowd why this man is one of the greatest showmen that has ever lived.
One thing this musician can certainly do is play a mean guitar. Most people don't know that early in Glen's career, he was a highly sought after Hollywood session guitarist. In the late '60s, Campbell was part of the so-called Wrecking Crew, a storied house band that played behind such hits as The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling", Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas", and The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man". At one point, Campbell was even a temporary Beach Boy as he filled in for Brian Wilson who was unable to tour due to his own fragile state of mind. Today, Campbell's recall may be sluggish, but his fingers have a flawless memory. He can still play any guitar you strap around his neck. His picking tonight was spot on, and an absolutely joy to behold. His dueling string instrumental with daughter Ashley was indeed a major highlight of the night.
I'm not ashamed to admit that several times throughout the show, I was somewhat moved to tears. The heartfelt way he sang his beautiful songs certainly had something to do with it. However, the bittersweet knowledge of knowing this was the end of a storied career also played a part. Several times, I caught myself taking trips down memory lane when I heard songs like "Dreams of the Every Day Housewife" and "Wichita Lineman". Like I said, it wasn't hard to get choked up knowing the inevitable end of a musical titan's career was at hand.
If you discover Glen Campbell is performing his farewell tour in your area, you owe it to yourself to go out and pay homage to this Grammy Award winning artist. They don't make stars like this any more.
Gentle on My Mind
By the Time I Get to Phoenix
Try a Little Kindness
Where's the Playground, Susie?
Dreams of the Everyday Housewife
Sweet Dream Baby
Birds (Duet with Shannon & Ashley Campbell)
Dueling Banjos (Glen & Ashley Campbell)
It's Your Amazing Grace
Ghost on the Canvas
It's Only Make Believe
The Moon's Harsh Mistress
In My Arms
A Better Place