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Music

Glen Campbell says goodbye at the CNE

Posted by Rick McGinnis / September 1, 2011

Glen Campbell Live TorontoFarewell tours have become something of a running joke, mostly thanks to bands like The Who that seemed to spend their last long decade leaving and coming back at regular intervals. When Glen Campbell arrived at the CNE Bandshell Wednesday night for a stop on his own farewell tour, it didn't sound like a joke, as the million-selling crossover country star had announced this summer that he had Alzheimer's, and that this tour, and the album it was meant to promote, would be his farewell to the music industry he'd been part of since the late '50s.

It was all a bit sombre and elegiac on paper, but you wouldn't know it from the show, which was as light and upbeat as you'd expect from a consummate pro like Campbell. He hit the stage playing his first big hit, "Gentle On My Mind," and by the end of the show he'd run through every major chart entry of his career, from "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman" to "Rhinestone Cowboy," "Southern Nights" and "Country Boy;" there was no personal creative agenda being pursued, and performers of Campbell's generation simply don't believe in letting the audience leave disappointed.

Geln Campbell Live TorontoThe crowd began taking their seats before noon that day, waiting in the sun and filling the Bandshell's benches by 5pm, then spilling out to the edges of the grassy space. There was a lot of white hair, needless to say, but it wasn't a senior-heavy casino crowd, and the prospect of seeing Campbell one last time for the low price of a CNE evening admission brought out a few younger faces, some of whom might have had some idea of just how hip Campbell really was, right from his earliest days as a guitar-for-hire.

Glen CampbellOnstage, Campbell might have occasionally seemed unclear about what he was supposed to play next, but once the song was counted in, his singing and guitar playing had a confidence that barrelled right over the odd missed lyric or flubbed note. Aware of his condition, the crowd was more than forgiving, and Campbell himself was clearly uninterested in any expression of self-pity or maudlin sentiment.

Geln CampbellIn interviews publicizing the tour and Ghost On The Canvas, his latest album, Campbell's family have allowed access to his doctor, who explained that one of the mysteries of Alzheimer's is that, while short term memory quickly suffers, the parts of the brain that affect performance - singing and playing an instrument - will continue to function normally, especially if the patient has done them for a long time. This would describe Campbell perfectly; his first big gig was playing in The Champs after their big hit "Tequila," and he went on to play in the The Wrecking Crew, the informal group of L.A. session players most famous for backing up Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" productions.

Glen Campbell TorontoCampbell became the sixth member of the Beach Boys around the time they were gearing up to record Pet Sounds, filling in for Brian Wilson when he gave up touring with the band, and playing on the band's records. By the time he had his first hit on Capitol with "Gentle On My Mind" he was a veteran, and the next decade was probably the long highlight of his career, with a role in True Grit alongside John Wayne - he performed the movie's theme song at the CNE - as well as a hit TV variety show.

Glen Campbell TorontoIt's the hit songs written by Jimmy Webb that seem to have endured the longest, though - "Galveston," "By The Time I Get To Phoenix," "Where's The Playground, Susie?" and "Wichita Lineman," musically intricate and touched with a deep melancholy, though the fervently upbeat Campbell never let them resonate live with anything like the sadness they have on record. "Wichita Lineman" was the highlight, however, and in front of a band comprising four of his children, he played the sort of creative, adventurous guitar parts that made his name in the L.A. studios.

Glen Campbell TorontoThe rest of the show was taken up with mostly cover tunes, the sort of country tunes that a singer like Campbell could do in his sleep ("I Can't Stop Loving You," "Jackson," "Lovesick Blues," "Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms") as well as the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," a tune he can claim in his repertoire better than almost anyone, since he was playing in the studio the day it was recorded.

Glen Campbell TorontoHe only lightly touched on his latest record, which features performances by Billy Corgan, Chris Isaak, Dick Dale and The Dandy Warhols, and covers of songs by younger musicians like Paul Westerberg, Jakob Dylan and Robert Pollard, and which is full of foreboding references to his condition, from the title track to songs like "Strong," "There's No Me Without You" and "The Rest Is Silence." It's a pretty good record, but its generally sober, wistful tone would hardly be appropriate to the boisterous, hearty man on the stage Wednesday night, who seemed to have no interest in giving in to any talk about finales or curtain calls.

Photos by Christian Bobak

Discussion

17 Comments

saltspring / September 1, 2011 at 06:39 pm
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An excellent review for one of music's true troupers. Wish I'd been there. I can remember as a very small child my parents watching The Glen Campbell Show every week.
Michael / September 1, 2011 at 06:46 pm
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Simply a wonderful review for a performer who has truly paid his dues.

Nice job, blogTO .... nice job.
Sean / September 1, 2011 at 07:22 pm
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This is an excellent review, that I'm pleasantly surprised to see on BlogTO.
JD / September 1, 2011 at 09:36 pm
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Great review. Really wish I had seen it!
The Dude / September 1, 2011 at 10:17 pm
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What Sean said. It was a beautiful concert, and I'm glad to see it reviewed in Blog TO.
Monica and Andy / September 1, 2011 at 10:32 pm
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We sat behind you at the Glen Campbell concert. Your pictures are excellent and the write-up was excellent! The Campbell family put on an fantistic show. Thanks for introducing us to this website.
Paul / September 1, 2011 at 10:44 pm
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I was at the Glen Campbell CNE concert. I loved it.
At times I did feel sad for Glens little mistakes,
But he had so much joy just being there, humour with himself & his legacy,
, appreciation for his audience, pride in his kids- he wouldn't
let us be sad. I'm so glad I experienced this wonderful
performer & gentleman. I left fulfilled & inspired.
I have witnessed musical history.
Easthousemom / September 1, 2011 at 10:58 pm
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We were at the concert and even though we sat on the grass, enjoyed a great showman perform. Although it was extremely sad when he missed lines and notes, it was definitely a concert we won't forget. Good Luck Glen!!
nate / September 1, 2011 at 11:22 pm
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Campbell was in the Beach Boys?! Neat. I didn't know that. Thanks for the enlightening coverage; I wish I could have gone to this.
Mike / September 2, 2011 at 12:28 am
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I have been a fan of Glen Campbell since the days of "little green apples", and it was a wonderful evening last night, to be able to see him. Like to note that he got a standing ovation last night for a great rendition of Rhinestone Cowboy, a song that I still have in the playlist while I work.
David Aplin / September 2, 2011 at 05:04 am
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A great and accurate review, you nailed it. I saw the show with my cousin, we stood as close as we could get. Campbell seemed genuinely pleased to be there, in his element doing what he does best. The onset of Alzheimers seemed to be obvious; he was glued to the teleprompter, but these days that's a common sight, many younger performers are as dependent on it as they are on the various substances that the OPP love to vilify and turn regular citizens against each other in Orwellian/Third Reich/Soviet Era fashion. As for the odd flubbed notes...Campbell (by his own description) is a jazzer and he lives to improvise. This was apparent as he riffed his way through the set, and it is most exciting to see aa accomplished guitarist like him improvise on the spot. The odd bum note showed his humanity, his willingness to work without a safety net. As a listener and onlooker I was deeply touched by his finely honed musical intuition. I'm glad I went and only wish that the show had continued on for many more hours.
mab11 / September 2, 2011 at 10:52 am
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The song from Ghost-Canvas titled "In My Arms" can be #1 anywhere. Gotta listen to that song. Too bad the record company isn't pushing it for airplay.
Mike / September 11, 2011 at 11:49 am
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Nice review!! I traveled from Ottawa to see this show, and it was SO worth it!! I've wanted to see Campbell for a few years now seeing as him coming to Canada was few and far between, and with this being the "Goodbye Tour" I took this as my LAST chance to get to see him in concert!! You wouldn't really know anything was wrong with him. His playing is fantastic and his vocals are better then ever! He still has his on stage charisma! As for the new album, it'll stand as a CLASSIC among his catalog! Its pure genius and a fabulous way out of an industry he knows all to well!! This album should be album of the year. There is heart and trueness to it that NO other album this year has seeing as its mostly Top 40 trash that comes out these days!! It's been a fantastic seller at HMV also!! I wish Glen nothing but the best on the remainder of his tour and hope he can finish it off and then leave gracefully into the sunlight! Even to those who aren't a fan of his, do yourselves a favor and pick up the album anyways! Its great!! I've bought the CD & the Vinyl!! Its just that fantastic! :)
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