Concert review: Glen Campbell, April 27 at Walton Arts Center

April 28th, 2012 at 9:17 am

Glen Campbell performing during the first of two nights at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville as part of his Goodbye Tour. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Media

More than once, I’ve heard someone remark how difficult it must be for musicians to remember the lyrics to the dozens of songs they sing every night. Similarly, how do they remember the chord structures, the intricate solos, the cadence, the rhythm, all of it?

Now, let’s complicate the matter. What would you do if your memories were fading away, stolen by Alzheimer’s?

A song, Glen Campbell proved on Friday (April 27) night, comes from somewhere a little deeper, and though the country icon is facing a very public battle with the disease, Alzheimer’s doesn’t rob you of soul.

The answer to the first question is a rhetorical one, of course. I sometimes forget my debit card pin number, but I can belt out nearly every lyric to every song on a classic rock radio station. Ask me to write the lyrics down, and that might be another matter. But when the chords begin, the memories come back, and likewise, Glen Campbell treated a very full Walton Arts Center to a night of remembrances.

Campbell announced in June 2011 he was facing a battle against Alzheimer’s and had been for the six months prior, too. He then started booking farewell shows, including a pair in Fayetteville.

Anyone who saw Campbell’s performance during the Grammy Awards in February had a pretty good indicator of what they’d see from Campbell’s local live performance. During his songs, he showed off his voice, kept time and played lead guitar throughout the night. It wasn’t some sort of courtesy nod to his former powers; Campbell needed no help as a guitarist (he soloed often and well, in fact) and little as a vocalist. He did get some vocal assistance courtesy of son Shannon Campbell and daughter Ashley Campbell. That duo would also team up for a take on their father’s “Hey, Little One” and it wasn’t a perfunctory offering – there is talent there.

Glen Campbell with, from left, son Cal Campbell and daughter Ashley Campbell

Also joining those three onstage was another of Campbell’s sons, drummer Cal Campbell. Glen Campbell addressed his family members several times, smiling all the while. Campbell remarked several times how much fun he was having, but that was unnecessary, considering the expression on his face already told us the same.

Campbell, dressed for the occasion in boots and flower design-covered gray jacket, also received help from a pair of onstage teleprompters, and while he looked at them from time to time, it would be wrong to say he relied on them.

There’s the other side of what could be gleaned from the Grammy performance – away from the structure of the songs, Campbell seemed distant from the evening’s activities. He told partial stories about John Wayne (his friend and co-star in the original filming of “True Grit”) and the songwriter Jimmy Webb, but never found his conclusion for either.

Several times during the course of the night, Campbell, an Arkansas native, took cues from his daughter to further the proceedings, such as which fret he should capo for a specific song.

But this was not some rote, rehearsed recitation, either. One of the highlights of the night came courtesy of a duet with Ashley Campbell as the two traded licks during “Dueling Banjos” with the younger Campbell on banjo and her father on guitar.

The set list featured all of the songs a Campbell fan would come to expect, such as “Wichita Lineman” and the singalong special “Rhinestone Cowboy,” which earned him one of several standing ovations.

But perhaps most striking were the songs he offered from his newest album, the 2011 release “Ghost on the Canvas.”

Although Alzheimer’s disease never received an official mention onstage Friday night or in “Ghost on the Canvas,” lyrically, it takes on Campbell’s condition fairly directly. He closed with one of those songs, the poignant “A Better Place,” which tells listeners “One thing I know/The world’s been good to me/A better place awaits, you’ll see.”

Or how about the earlier offering “Any Trouble,” which begs “Don’t go to any trouble/You know I won’t be here long” … “Don’t go to any trouble/You know I must say so long.”

He may not be around long – Alzheimer’s is a fickle, disabling disease with a hard-to-determine timeline. During a particularly lucid interlude between songs late in the set, Campbell offered the crowd a thank you.

“I’m always amazed when I come out on stage, and you guys are so kind to me and my family,” he said.

There was no reason for any other reaction from the crowd. Campbell and company perform at a high level and the audience knew the full scope of the bargain – every handout given to patrons called the occasion Campbell’s Goodbye Tour.

There will eventually come a time when the Goodbye Tour must end, likely in some town far away from Fayetteville. Maybe those songs we know so well will finally depart from his memory, or his rich voice will finally betray him. That time is not now, however. The original Rhinestone Cowboy has a little bit of sparkle left yet.

Note: Glen Campbell performs again tonight (April 28) at the Walton Arts Center in a show that was added after the first sold out. Tickets remain to tonight’s performance and can be found through www.waltonartscenter.org.

Glen Campbell set list: 1) Gentle on My Mind; 2) Galveston; 3) By the Time I Get to Phoenix; 4) Try a Little Kindness; 5) Where’s the Playground, Susie?; 6) Didn’t We?; 7) I Can’t Stop Loving You; 8) True Grit; 9) Lovesick Blues; 10) Dueling Banjos; 11) Hey Little One [sung by Ashley Campbell and Shannon Campbell]; 12) Any Trouble; 13) It’s Your Amazing Grace; 14) The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress; 15) Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.); 16) Wichita Lineman; 17) Hadacol Boogie [vocals by Campbell’s brother] 18) Rhinestone Cowboy;

Encore: 19) Southern Nights; 20) A Better Place