at the Rialto Square Theater in Joliet. (Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)
Farewell tours come and go, often followed by the inevitable reunion go-round. Make it look like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the tickets sell themselves. Country superstar Glen Campbell, however, hails from a less cynical era, and when he hits the road on The Goodbye Tour, he means it.
Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease a year ago this month, Campbell, 75, announced last summer that his latest album, "Ghost on the Canvas," would be his last and that he'd ride his tour bus on one final trek across the country. The Goodbye Tour stopped Thursday and Friday night at Joliet's Rialto Square Theater
Meanwhile, the Recording Academy announced early Thursday that Campbell will perform at the 54th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 12 with Blake Shelton and the Band Perry.
That he deserves the tributes and the chance to say farewell on his own terms is hard to quibble with. In a half century of show business, Campbell has recorded more than 70 albums and sold nearly 50 million copies. His 27 top-10 hits include Larry Weiss' "Rhinestone Cowboy," John Hartford's "Gentle on My Mind," Allen Toussaint's "Southern Nights" and all those Jimmy Webb songs -- "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston."
Thursday night in Joliet, the Country Music Hall of Famer played all those and more in an 80-minute set that was at times moving, confusing, funny and sad.
First, to his health: Campbell obviously was not quite himself. After opening with "Gentle on My Mind" ("the rivers of my memory..."), he played "Galveston," and when that song ended he started to play it again. His daughter, Ashley, playing banjo in the band, chimed in: "We just did that one, Dad."
He went hunting for where he'd left his mike stand more than once. Some words were flubbed here and there. Through much of the show, Campbell's head was down -- reading lyrics from three teleprompters on the rim of the stage. (Hey, if I had to sing a catalog full of wordy Jimmy Webb songs, I'd need a teleprompter, too.) He wasn't sure where to put the capo on his guitar for "True Grit," and he didn't get it on quite right. He possessed real grace about his situation, though, joking later, "That's the first mistake I've made today."
The quips came fast and furiously, and throughout the concert Campbell demonstrated an enviable carefree spirit, a constant smile and an infectious joy. He's not a troubled soul, by any means. He danced with gangly abandon through "Southern Nights," and he clearly relished his material, introducing many songs by exclaiming, as he saw them appear on his teleprompter, "Ooh, I like this one!" as if he hadn't heard the tune in a long time and relished greeting the old friend again.
There are many kinds of memory, though, and Campbell's muscle recall is perfectly sharp. While he seemed uneasy about singing and playing at the same time, he killed almost every time he stepped away from the microphone and cut loose on his guitar. Solos in "Try a Little Kindness" and "Country Boy" earned their raucous applause, as did his clever improvising on the melody of "Wichita Lineman." Mid-show, Campbell and daughter Ashley faced off with "Dueling Banjos." She's no great shakes on the title instrument, but Campbell himself smoked on guitar. Without words or tasks to trouble him, he was in his zone -- and he definitely won the duel.
He's in fine voice, too, singing with remarkable range -- dipping down low through "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Country Boy," then soaring high and even yodeling the "Lovesick Blues." When the band (which also includes sons Shannon on rhythm guitar and Cal on drums) stepped back and allowed Campbell to sing "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress" backed only by piano, the evening's subtext evaporated.
Campbell closed his show with "A Better Place," a tuneful prayer from the "Ghost" album. "I've tried and I have failed, Lord / I've won and I have lost," he sang. He continued, "Some days I'm so confused, Lord," but he wasn't mournful; instead, he lightened the moment with an ad-lib: "Ain't we all?"
Glen Campbell's Thursday night set list:
"Gentle on My Mind"
"By the Time I Get to Phoenix"
"Try a Little Kindness"
"Where's the Playground, Susie?"
"I Can't Stop Loving You"
"Dueling Banjos" (with Ashley Campbell)
"Hey Little One" (Shannon and Ashley Campbell)
"It's Your Amazing Grace"
"The Moon's a Harsh Mistress"
"Ghost on the Canvas"
"A Better Place"