3rd November 2011
T.J. Kuenster – keyboards, MD
and Instant People:
Ashley Campbell – banjo, keyboards, vocals
Shannon Campbell- guitar, vocals
Cal Campbell – drums, guitar, vocals
Siggy Sjurnsen – bass, keyboards, vocals
Ry Jarred – acoustic guitar, vocals (+ lead vocal in support set)
This is somewhat approximate in sequence. I scribbled them on four corners of a scrap of paper with serious overlapping. I think I have every song down, but might have slipped on order.
Gentle On My Mind
Try A Little Kindness
It’s Only Make Believe
Where’s The Playground Susie?
Dreams of the Everyday Housewife
By The Time I Get To Phoenix
Guitar / banjo duet (Duelling Banjos?)
Hey Little One – Ashley Campbell & Shannon Campbell
Ghost On The Canvas
Your Amazing Grace
Don’t Go To Any Trouble
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
In My Arms
A Better Place
This is billed as the Final Farewell Tour, and with Glen Campbell suffering from Alzheimers, they mean it. I’m a “Greatest Hits” fan rather than an albums fan, but I’d always intended to see him and this was the last opportunity. The oldest Glen Campbell record I have is with The Folkswingers 12 String Guitar back in 1963, with Glen playing then unusual 12 string guitar alongside Doug and Rod Dillard. Then he was a member of the fabled session Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles with Leon Russell, Joe Osborne and Hal Blaine, and the list of songs he played guitar on stretches through most of Phil Spector’s output, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling and Good Vibrations. When Brian Wilson got stage fright, he became a Beach Boy. Then John Hartford’s song Gentle on My Mind became a solo hit for him, and he made his mark with heavily arranged countryish songs with elaborate orchestral backing, selling 45 million records in the process. His career fascinates. After a failed solo effort with Capitol in the early 60s, he became the most requested guitar player on recordings, then a major singer.
His three youngest kids are all on stage in his band to support him through the tour, and their own band, Instant People, provide both the backing and the support set. The support set is thirty minutes, and they’re an impressive band with five singers. When you’re doing the support, and you know your original material, which you’re there to showcase, will be unfamiliar to the audience, I’d always advise doing just one extremely well-known song as a cover version. It gives people something to latch on to among all new songs. They didn’t. They should. So many good singers is a plus, and drummer Cal Campbell came out to sing lead on their last number. He sounds most like his dad, and played guitar (Glen’s) just for this one number. He had immediate “authority” on guitar too.
Glen received a rapturous reception, and it’s the outpouring of deserved audience affection that must help him through his personal struggles. The voice is still fully there, and real. By real, I compare to some singers of his age who use computer assistance on hard notes. He wasn’t, I’m sure. It’s a well-ordered set. Four of his five best known songs bookended the main set. Gentle on My Mind and Galvestion to start; Wichita Lineman and Rhinestone Cowboy to end. Try A Little Kindness got us to It’s Only Make Believe with a Conway Twitty impersonation at the start. You could see how he enjoys onstage chat, and that also he was cutting it down. There are few signs of the illness, except that there are three computer screens as teleprompters arrayed between the monitors, and he is continually glancing down towards them.
By The Time I Get to Phoenix was followed by Hank Williams Lovesick Blues. The Frank Ifield #1 UK hit version was one of my most-loathed songs of all time, but enough time has passed for me to love Glen’s vocal gymnastics on it. He did a picking contest with his daughter Ashley, with her on banjo and Glen on guitar. Then he took a break to change clothes, while Ashley and Shannon Campbell duetted on his old album track, Hey Little One (from By The Time I Get To Phoenix album, they said).
On return we got two songs from the Ghost on The Canvas album: the title track, then Your Amazing Grace. Don’t Go To Any Trouble led into a rollicking Southern Nights. Jimmy Webb’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress was done with just his arranger of 35 years, T.J. Kuenster on keyboards, while Instant People sat on a riser and watched … a nice effect. After the strong closers (Wichita Lineman, Rhinestone Cowboy) the standing ovation was instant. The encores were both from Ghost on the Canvas. First Teddy Thompson’s song In My Arms, with its very catchy melody, then the poignant A Better Place with its lines about being confused, and supported by the love of his family. Glen is obviously and rightly immensely proud of his three kids, and they’re right by his side throughout. You could feel their tension and awareness … Ashley in particular was watching him with great care throughout.
He didn’t play much guitar. In half the set he had a hand mic only. When he did play guitar, it was usually only to take a solo. There were a few stutters, but as soon as the solo starts to fly you are very aware that this guy has spent fifty years at the pinnacle of his profession. I loved his little joke towards the end as he strapped on a 12-string for Southern Nights: I’m the best guitar player here, and they only let me do a couple of numbers.
As with Eliza Carthy recently, the drums were behind perspex shielding. I’m told that every band in Las Vegas and LA now does this. This allows greater volume on the vocal mics without the drums bleeding into the vocal track. It worked a dream for Glen Campbell’s main set, because he likes to roam from side to side with a radio mic.
On Instant People’s set, a criticism I thought I’d never make (it’s always the other way round) is the vocals were too loud in relation to the backing. This may have been our seating position. Our tickets said central stalls, but “central” turned out to be on the extreme auditorium left (stage right). I found the sound odd. All the instruments had radio pick ups, so weren’t physically attached to amplifiers. There was an array of monitors facing the band, and just one 2 x 12” speaker cabinet angled up towards the centre mic with a microphone in front of it. What looked like a largish car speaker, pointing upwards, was mid stage, but there were no visible speaker cabinets. There was a mixing desk at the back of the hall, but also a roadie stage left with banks of equipment separated off with a black cloth round it. I assume everything was being relayed to the soundboard and into the PA system. Some of the best stage sound I’ve heard is with small Fender practice amps mic’d into the PA, but there were still physical speaker cabinets, each relating to a musician. Here there didn’t appear to be (and the 2 x 12 wasn’t there for the main set). It all worked very well for the main set, where (like Leonard Cohen) the lead vocal mic was way up in the mix and the backing comparatively quiet. For Instant People’s set I didn’t like the effect. There was no sense of spatial separation of the instruments. We were sitting far to one side, so it may have differed elsewhere, but it was if their whole soundstage was emerging from one giant mono speaker. It was less apparent for the main set, but you still lacked that spatial soundstage.