Glen Campbell At the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto on Wednesday
Who says goodbyes always have to be sad?
In June, 75-year old singer and guitarist Glen Campbell announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Ghost on the Canvas, which was released on Tuesday, would be his final album, and he began the bluntly titled Goodbye Tour at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto the following day.
But the parting offered more sweet than sorrow, as Campbell offered a précis of his half-century career with passion, joy and only the subtlest hints of any incapacitation. Instead of showing anger or sorrow over his fate, Campbell made jokes. At one point in the show, after apparently forgetting what the next tune was, he turned to the crowd and cracked, "That's the best thing about getting older: 'I forgot.'"
He didn't forget much, however. Although there was a flat screen display scrolling song lyrics next to the monitor speakers at his feet, Campbell mostly got by without help. Apart from an occasional glance here and there, he didn't obviously rely on the screen until he got to an encore rendition of You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' – which was fair enough, considering that he only played guitar on the original 1964 Righteous Brothers recording.
After opening with Gentle on My Mind, the theme song from his late-'60s TV show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, he treated the large and enthusiastic crowd to a host of hits: By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Where's the Playground Susie, Try a Little Kindness, Rhinestone Cowboy. He strapped on an electric 12-string for the chiming guitar hook in Southern Nights, and before singing True Grit, he made jokes about having appeared in the movie. John Wayne won his only Oscar for that film, he said, mockingly suggesting that "it was probably because I made him look so good" in comparison.
Campbell's voice was in terrific shape throughout the 75-minute performance, offering effortless high notes on Wichita Lineman and even a bit of yodeling on the Hank Williams oldie Lovesick Blues. After remarking that one of his biggest successes, It's Only Make-Believe, had previously been a hit for Conway Twitty, he did a Twitty impression during the song's first verse, and joked around with the lower register of his voice while doing the Johnny Cash/June Carter hit Jackson, accompanied by his daughter Debby.
Debby wasn't the only member of the Campbell clan onstage, as Glen also had his sons Shannon and Cal on guitar and drums, respectively, as well as his youngest daughter, Ashley, on keyboards and banjo. Ashley and Debby got their own feature, a sweetly sung rendition of the Fleetwood Mac hit Landslide, but it was Ashley's banjo playing that earned the biggest cheers, especially after she challenged her dad to a "duel" with the bluegrass chestnut Duelling Banjos.
Although Campbell played the proud papa afterward, the fact was he barely broke a sweat during the tune. Always one of the hottest pickers in L.A. – he was part of the famed Wrecking Crew group in the early '60s and played on literally dozens of hits – he's lost little of his ability, and offered several flashy solos that touched on everything from bent blue notes to Nashville chicken pickin' to fast, jazzy runs. There were a few fumbled notes, however, hinting at the toll his Alzheimer's will eventually take.
Even so, it was hard to shake the sense that Campbell was fine with that. He closed the show with two songs from Ghost on the Canvas, and he seemed to sum it all up with the valedictory A Better Place. "Some days I'm so confused, Lord/My past gets in the way," he sang, adding, "The world's been good to me/ A better place awaits, you'll see."