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Monday, Jan. 23, 2012

Glen Campbell @ The Pabst Theater

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If grace can be measured in attendance, Glen Campbell was shown about as much of it as the Pabst Theater could hold last Saturday. Not he or anyone sharing the stage with him that evening made mention of it, but every ticket purchased for this sell-out stop on Campbell's "Goodbye Tour" was like a vote of confidence for the 75-year-old singer/guitarist, who announced last year that he had the onset of Alzheimer's disease. But no one really spends good money to attend a concert out of pity. The point was to bid a fond farewell to the man with the sonorous voice and talented hands who defined a kind of emotionally and musically sophisticated country/pop crossover in the '60s and '70s.

By way of a tenor with which he excelled at interpreting the songs of such writers as John Hartford and Jimmy Webb, Campbell's hot streak of multiple-format radio hits ran for more than a decade. Before that, he proved his instrumental prowess as a bluegrass picker, touring musician with The Beach Boys and member of The Wrecking Crew, the Los Angeles session musician collective heard on many of the most memorable pop hits from the few years before his solo career took off. In later years, his faith would lead him to record for the contemporary Christian market. And, most recently, his albums have displayed an eclectic array of rock remakes and revisited his signature sound to satisfying effect.

The greatest share of his set list Saturday drew from his defining period of more than 30 years ago. After a bit of a shaky start vocally, wherein favorites including "Gentle on My Mind" and "Try a Little Kindness" suffered from what sounded like Campbell testing his range with a slightly pinched tone and tentative delivery, he started to soar with "Where's the Playground, Susie?," one of the melancholy romantic ruminations at which he excelled in his prime. From there on in, his voice was capable of reaching the heights of his salad days, his guitar as fluid as that of players half his age, and his stage manner folksy and engaging. It was as if the audience witnessed a musical phoenix rising as he felt the warmth of the crowd's appreciation.

It couldn't have hurt Campbell's confidence that much of his backing band was comprised of his children. Nepotism proved a good thing, though, as the siblings' talents fall not far from their paternal tree. Daughter Ashley had the brightest opportunity to shine, as she performed a duet with her dad on the Deliverance instrumental standard "Dueling Banjos," wherein he borrowed his kid's guitar after the wiring in his had shorted out.

After a mid-show break to "go tinkle," Campbell's return featured a few numbers from his latest and last album, Ghost On the Canvas. That set's titular tune and the oldie "Wichita Lineman," both highlighted by keyboard fills mimicking the tap of a telegraph, made for inspired programming. The same held for ending the night with the up notes of the sunny gambol of "Southern Nights," Campbell's last No. 1 record, and "A Better Place," a subtly gospel-infused number from Canvas. It made for a graceful way to wrap up the memories and artistic integrity Campbell has provided for the last few decades.

Photo by Erik Ljung
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