There were moments when Thursday’s show at the Uptown Theater seemed as ordinary as any other. One of those came toward the middle of the set, when Glen Campbell and his daughter, Ashley, performed a nimble, high-speed version of the instrumental “Dueling Banjos,” the theme to the movie “Deliverance.”
Other moments, however, implied otherwise, like when Campbell had trouble remembering the names of the people on stage with him, including his son, Shannon. Or when he started to re-introduce his music director and keyboard player, T.J. Kuenster. “Dad, we already introduced him,” his daughter reminded him.
Last summer, Campbell announced he had Alzheimer’s disease. So he recorded one last album, “Ghost on the Canvas,” and launched his Goodbye Tour, which stopped in Kansas City on Thursday, four days after his 76th birthday. For 70 minutes, Campbell and his band took a crowd that nearly filled the place on that farewell journey, one that evoked an array of emotions and responses. There was a lot of love and melancholy, but plenty of laughter, too.
The set list was front-loaded with several of his biggest hits, so the night got off to a stunning start: “Gentle on My Mind,” “Galveston” and then “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Campbell’s voice has lost some muscle and luster, but it can still carry most of those pretty tunes. During his cover of “Lovesick Blues,” he nailed a couple of yodels. He had a teleprompter in front of him, but he didn’t appear to rely on it too much. Most impressive was his guitar playing. During “You’ve Got to Try a Little Kindness” and “Country Boy,” his licks and leads showed the flash and style that made him a session wiz back in the 1960s.
The effects of his illness were most apparent between songs. Some of his banter felt hurried or disassociated with his surroundings. Some of it was humorous, too, like his recollection of meeting John Wayne. Ashley Campbell, 25, kept things on track, with much sport and grace. As her father left the stage for a break, she said something to him, as if to remind him not to go too far, that he’d be coming back on stage soon. It’s a phase most of us go through: becoming our parents’ custodians. To see it carried out in public with so much love and aplomb was moving.
After she and her brother sang a tune, Campbell did return to sing “Any Trouble,” one off the new album with lyrics that resonate, like a kick to the heart. Its first verse goes: “Don’t go to any trouble / You know I won’t be here long.” Other lyrics were just as sobering: “Some days I’m so confused, Lord / My past gets in my way” and “I am so afraid of dying.”
But in the end, this night was more a celebration of a grand music career than a farewell or a living memorial. The crowd took over “Rhinestone Cowboy,” roaring its chorus back at Campbell, surprising him, it seemed. Likewise, “Southern Nights” never sounded brighter or livelier. He ended with “A Better Place,” a lovely hymn about seeing the big picture, the grand perspective: “I need the ones I love, Lord / Each and every day.” Thursday night, he was surrounded by them, and it made for an extraordinary show that most of us will long remember.