Glen Campbell said his farewell as a performer to Los Angeles — where he broke into the studios as a member of the Wrecking Crew a half-century ago — Sunday night at the Hollywood Bowl. With all the publicity about Campbell’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and his determination to carry on with one last tour anyway, it might have been an occasion for sadness. But no, the spirit in the air was one of joyousness, even of defiance of the looming darkness.
Obviously time has altered the makeup of the 76-year-old Campbell’s voice — the high, clear timbre of his youth is now deeper and rougher with a bit of a quaver — yet he can still summon forth the cry in his voice and even a nice yodel in bedrock country material like “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Lovesick Blues.” He looked good, moved well, took immediate command of his audience with an electric opening performance of “Gentle on My Mind.” Best of all, his guitar playing sounded unimpaired: fast, funky, with brilliant fills and in-the-pocket extended solos that made it clear that he’s still one of the great pop and country guitarists.
The bulk of the set was devoted to Campbell’s long string of Jimmy Webb-penned classics, the second wind of mid-’70s hits (“Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights”), and some attractive material from what looks to be his final record, “Ghost on the Canvas.” The best performance of all was that of “Wichita Lineman” — delivered with all cylinders firing — and Campbell’s daughter Ashley (a gifted banjo player, singer and keyboardist) and sons Shannon (guitar) and Cal (drums) came up with their own closely harmonized, countrified take on one of Campbell’s underrated gems, “Hey, Little One.”
Campbell conveyed heartbreaking new meaning to a line toward the close of “Galveston” as he spoke the words, “I am so afraid of dying.” The final song, “A Better Place” (from “Ghost”), formed a kind of poignant benediction, but not enough to mask what was, indeed, a celebration.
Alas, much of the well-intentioned opening set by Dawes — little better than a bar band — and a parade of tribute-paying guest stars was fraught with problems (keys set too low for some singers, indifferent covers of records that Campbell played on), though things eventually started to pick up a bit thanks to Kris Kristofferson’s easygoing rendition of Webb’s “Highwayman” and Jenny Lewis’ spunk, peaking with Jackson Browne’s solid performance of his “These Days.”