Glen Campbell – Old Town School Of Folk Music (Chicago, IL)
It isn’t every night that a showbiz legend decamps at the Old Town School Of Folk Music. Would Glen Campbell justify an unusually high ticket price for the venue by tailoring his show to its regulars — that is, focusing on his rootsier skills and going easy on the Bransonisms? Having been derailed over the years by drug and drinking problems, did he have anything left in the tank? Was the singer, who is pushing 70, revived by his recent New York engagement with Jimmy Webb?
Campbell is to Webb what Dionne Warwick was to Burt Bacharach. Anyone who has ever heard his definitive renditions of “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston”, among other Webb masterpieces, had to be hoping he would be generous in sampling that essential part of his resume. He played them too close to the vest, but there was no questioning the lyrical authority he brought to “Galveston”, “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” and especially “Highwayman”. Even backed by over-rehearsed musicians who seemed drafted from a pit band — he put them to shame every time he ripped off one of his tightly coiled guitar solos — Campbell got to the songs’ emotional core.
But those were isolated moments in a strange, scattered performance that ranged from the drecky pop of “Don’t Pull Your Love” (a Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds hit from 1971 that Campbell remade in ’76) to a whiz-bang guitar treatment of the William Tell overture on which Glen made like Jimi, playing behind his head. Though many of his fans may not think of the onetime host of TV’s “Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” as an instrumentalist, he was once a top session man for the likes of the Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra, and he hasn’t lost his chops.
As a singer, he hasn’t lost any vigor, either. But if some singers deepen as they age while retaining their basic personality, Campbell seemed oddly detached from his former self. He plowed confidently through his greatest hits, but his closely miked readings were smaller in spirit as well as voice, his wide-open qualities gone with the wind. When he tried pouring on some of the old dimpled charm, he was easily distracted by shouts from the audience and struggled to complete a thought.
After ten songs, his daughter Debby Campbell, who has been performing with him since the late ’80s, came out to offer a mini-set of her own and medley-ize with her father on tunes including the pop atrocity “United We Stand”. A competent and agreeably understated if not particularly distinctive vocalist, she was a steadying presence on a night that badly needed it.