‘Wichita Lineman’ Glen Campbell nears the end of the line

dmenconi@newsobserver.comJuly 22, 2012 

— Sometimes the weather cooperates, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes when it doesn’t, things still work out pretty well. Like Saturday night, as Glen Campbell sang his iconic hit “Galveston” onstage in the rain at Booth Amphitheatre. It was as if they had synced up the lightning to coincide with the song’s lines about cannons flashing and the narrator being “so afraid of dying.”

Campbell’s performance wasn’t too long, clocking in at less than an hour. But it’s remarkable the show happened at all. This is a farewell go-round for Campbell, who announced last year that he has Alzheimer’s disease and would retire after one last album and tour. Given that an upcoming run of dates in Australia and New Zealand was just canceled out of concerns that Campbell wasn’t up for that much traveling, you had to wonder about his condition.

Then there was Saturday night’s stormy weather, a drenching thunderstorm that delayed the show for more than an hour because of lightning in the area. Concerns about the weather and finishing before curfew shortened Campbell’s usual 19-song set down to 14, but the good part was that it was all wheat and no chaff from one of the most enduring catalogs in popular music.

The “official” rock-history version of the late ’60s/early ’70s is that the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan were all that mattered. For those of us of a certain age, however, the Nixon era was as much about “The Partridge Family,” “The Brady Bunch,” Herb Alpert – and Campbell, who had an astonishing run of signpost hits including “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and the aforementioned “Galveston.”

Campbell is 76 now, and his voice has acquired some rough edges. But he has learned to work around that, and he still puts those signature songs across in a way that makes you feel ’em. He showed off a great yodel, too, on the Hank Williams standard “Lovesick Blues.” And he showed still-excellent touch and taste on guitar, with some especially nice interplay with his son on the outro of “Wichita Lineman.” Campbell’s touring band features three of his children, including keyboardist/banjo player Ashley Campbell, who served as foil on “Dueling Banjos.”

Overall, Campbell was in fine voice and excellent spirits, and he seemed appreciative that so much of the crowd stuck out the foul weather to see his show. Of course, there was also a fuzzy moment or two that may or may not have had anything to do with his mental state; Campbell garbled the “Wichita Lineman” line about “that stretch down South,” which came out something like “that stretch right there.”

No matter, it was still lovely and moving – his favorite Jimmy Webb-penned hit, Campbell said.

Mine, too. And here’s the best part about the weather: You couldn’t tell how many tears there were out in the crowd.

Menconi: 919-829-4759

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