Glen Campbell – Live at Riverside Casino

Glen CampbellGlen Campbell at the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort

September 5, 2010, Riverside, Iowa

It was the smell of active cigarette smoke that made me feel a little unsettled. I suppose that’s a testament to the various laws that have been put in place for the past few years, prohibiting smoking in public places like bars and restaurants.

Public places other than casinos, which are exempt in my state.

I was walking aimlessly around the Riverside Casino, the one-armed bandits providing an endless G note from the continual chirp of electronic sounds.

Finally, I stopped and asked a casino worker to point out where Glen Campbell was playing that Sunday afternoon.

I was alone; nobody except a co-worker expressed much interest in seeing Glen Campbell. He’s about my age too, which points to the idea that Glen might not have the same appeal for those who don’t remember when songs like “Southern Nights,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” were saturating AM Top 40 after they’d already fried the country radio station airwaves.

I was one of the younger ones, believe it or not, as evidenced by the overwhelming mops of grey that graciously filled a “theatre” for Glen that probably served as a wedding reception area the following weekend, or maybe the casino’s own job fair. It was cold and dark in the acoustically dead banquet hall, and when the usher pointed out that my seat was housed in between two ladies in their late 60s, I asked if I could just sit alone in one of the empty seats a few rows back.

To say that Glen Campbell knew who the audience consisted of and where he was playing would be an understatement. Glen’s probably done enough of these things in his sleep that he can get away with mediocrity. But he cannot feign the spark that still rises on occasion.

For this afternoon it would be during the extended guitar solo that Campbell conjured up during “Country Boy,” a cleanly picked strut down his Fender Stratocaster that even prompted a “look at that old man go!” grin from his keyboardist/bandleader T.J. Kuenster.

Apart from that moment, and a few others that managed to catch fire, this performance was most definitely a by-the-numbers set that changes so infrequently, you’d only need to see it once.

But for Glen, even the repetitiveness requires a teleprompter.

It’s hard for me to say for sure, but there’s something amiss about Glen Campbell’s capacity nowadays. It wasn’t just the teleprompter; there were other moments that hinted Glen is now 74 years old. I noticed a few guitar notes that sailed into different keys, a few moments where Campbell just plain gave up playing after a few measures of trying to get the feel of the song, and a few rambling stories, including the one of why he kept popping throat lozenges (“I used to drink water. But T.J. has got me on these…So I don’t go…tinkle as much.”)

This is why Kuenster is there, not only to play keyboards and signal chord changes, but to make sure Glen stays on task. He is the same man that arranges Glen’s Branson, Missouri, show too. He also answers Glen when he asks “Who wrote this one T.J.?” and “What key is this one in?” and “We like the Foo Fighters, don’t we?”

Glen also has the benefit of several children working for him, and you get the sense that they’re with him because they know he needs a little extra care as of late.

Debby Campbell, Glen’s oldest daughter, has been with his touring band for over twenty years, and she plays the perfect fodder for Glen as June Carter Cash during “Jackson.” She pokes fun at her dad as he struggles to open water bottles while holding a microphone, occasionally missing a word or two of the classic.

At only twenty-three, Ashley Campbell is stunning, and she has carved out a bit of talent like her older sister from Glen’s gene pool with some great fingerpicking of her own. She plays with brother Cal Campbell in a band called Instant People, and she demonstrates some nice vocal prowess.

Yes, the Campbell girls are provided their own portion of the show, about fifteen minutes of the 75 minute set. There are no originals, just covers, including a rendition of Fleetwood Mac‘s “Landslide” on banjo with Debby handling some great harmonies.

Of course, Campbell himself voiced many covers – and it’s important to remember that his work prior to his own solo success came as a session player in Southern California, working with some other regulars under the moniker “The Wrecking Crew.” There’s a little bit of truth to that line “there’s been a load of compromisin’ on the road to my horizon” during “Rhinestone Cowboy,” the evening’s biggest hit.

“This song’s been very good to us. … Who wrote this one, T.J.?”

“Larry Weiss.”

“Larry Weiss. … We like Larry Weiss!”

For over and hour, there were hits like this, usually ending with Glen’s exclamation of “Next song!” I couldn’t tell if those words were coming up on his teleprompter or if he was just really eager to get the hell out of that casino.

In the end, Glen got his money, we got our favorite hits and a chance to see Glen Campbell one last time before the long farewell begins at some point.

The fact that Campbell delivered a well intentioned, but obviously average, set of songs isn’t my main complaint. It’s the fact that we’ve put Glen and others on this well-paid yet seldomly rewarding string of casino dates instead of multi-generational theatre shows. And while I will partake in these types of casino events for the convenience of running through my bucket list of “artists to see before they stop touring,” I dream of a tour of national worship, like the old blues legends received in England back in the sixties.

But instead of adoring young fans trying to visualize their influences on stage, we’ve left them to their peers, a network of slot-playing retirees, eager to give away their nest egg and catch a show of old Glen Campbell hits before hitting the buffet.

So you see, I can’t say that I deserved better from Glen Campbell during his performance than what I got on that Sunday afternoon, but he certainly deserved better from us.

MP3: Glen Campbell – “Times Like These” (Foo Fighters cover) from Meet Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

9 thoughts on “Glen Campbell – Live at Riverside Casino”

  1. To the reviewer: I attended this concert with family members and friends, and we truly enjoyed it! My first thought was that anyone who starts a concert review with complaints about the cigarette smoke from the casino probably ought not to have come in the first place. You seem to lament the fact that most of the audience was comprised of older folks, and later hint that Glen should be playing somewhere other than casinos (which he does, by the way). As well, you suggest it’s somehow wrong that Glen is playing mostly for his peers, rather than for a younger audience. I would counter those sentiments by offering that it’s a testament to Glen’s musicianship and legendary status that his peers (the OLD folks) STILL come out to see him perform. When I was young, I didn’t spend my hard-earned cash going to see my parents’ music idols. I went to see my own, even though I respected and liked many of theirs. I imagine the same is true today.

    RE: your statement “…there’s something amiss about Glen Campbell’s capacity these days,” I would say that most folks didn’t come to the concert to assess Glen’s “capacity.” They came to see him, and to hear him perform. Glen is 74. He’s admitted for years that he forgets a lot, and he clearly relies on his family/band during the shows. Who cares? People going to see him are not there to do a functional assessment on him. It’s a testament to the character of his family and band that they provide any needed support. They, too, seem to understand the audience to which they are playing, and they certainly show the proper respect to their audiences, and to Glen. That’s something worth seeing, in itself – a multi-generational band, bringing the old and new together. And it works!

    Those OLD FOLKS you talk about gave roaring applause to Ashley Campbell at the Riverside concert after her performance of “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” even though I doubt any of them had ever heard it before (nor would they know who wrote it or who’s made it famous). And they were clearly enjoying the “family band” as much as I was (as evidenced by the applause and happy faces around me). There were standing ovations, but there wasn’t the level of yelling and screaming these folks likely did as youngsters. Again, they’ve had their day at that. I didn’t notice anyone that wasn’t enjoying the show, and my friends who attended (all younger than my 53 years) absolutely LOVED it, as did my 3 year-old granddaughter!

    It isn’t as though the audiences don’t notice Glen’s age. Rather, I think most of them are awed by the fact that he can still skillfully croon and pick, and ENTERTAIN at age 74 but, more importantly, that he wants to.

  2. To the reviewer

    I was not at the show but can say I do not recognize the Glen Campbell you describe.

    I acknowledge the fact he uses autocue and is forgetfull but the several shows I have seen in the last 10 years have been strong energetic performances.

    It is only naturel that many members of his audience are older. I would say they are the better judges. They have heard music from all decades. Through children and grand children many will have heard the more up to date performers. Despite that they still come to see Glen.

    You say that no one was around earlier and not particularly intrested in the fact glen was performing. How in heaven then can you know what the hell they were thinking.

    Why comment about what you think the hall is usually used for. If you feel it is a worthy comment then do your homework and find out.

    I don’t know of many older audeiences that scream and shout out. On my sinartra DVD’s the audience were restrained but he was clearly a well loved performer.

    I have seen glen almost fill the concert hall in England and have seen him play at an open air concert to an audience of several thousand in the last few years. The fact he plays smaqller concert hall shows his legendary fame has not made him too big for his boots.

    I get the sense you had made your verdict before you had even seen the show and much of it sounds like the subjectivity of your imagination.

  3. I just left a Glen Campbell concert in Lufkin, Texas. He was great! His family was great. His brother performed also and that was a real treat. No disappointments at all. Glen Campbell could have sang all night. I hope I have another chance to attend a Glen Campbell Concert.

  4. Just attended Glen’s little concert last night (10/23/2010) in El Cajon, Calif. Venue was about 400 and it was a great performance. He played for 1.5 hours with two encores. Yes, very few under 50 years old but what an enthsiastic crowd.Ashley and Debbie were there, and I was impressed with young Ashley playing Banjo vs. Glen’s guitar in “Dueling Banjos”. Son Cal Campbell is the drummer.A bass guitariast from Scandanavia and a back-up acoustic guitarist and the long-time mgr/keyboardist made for 7 on the stage.I definitely got my $35 worth as concerts today are way overpriced. And I much prefer the Glen of today than the Glen of the 70’s and 80’s who seemed too sure of himself and sloppy (of course, that could have been the cocaine talking).I think his best performances are on the PBS DVD of 2001 which you can rent on Netflix featuring a full symphony orchestra. It’s a must see but do see Glen in concert while you can. Who of our icons is still playing at age 74?

  5. Yesterday, in El Cajon, California, I was treated to one of the best times of my life. Having been a huge Glen Campbell fan back “in his day,” I jumped at the chance to see him in concert in my own backyard.

    In a cozy 450-seat theater at Sycuan Casino, Glen and his band (which included three of his “children”) treated a full house to his classics and a couple of songs from his upcoming new album to be released this spring (as we were dutifully informed by eldest daughter, Debby).

    I was fortunate to be seated next to a woman who came to take in the show in the same way I did – knowing the man is 74 years old and probably not what he used to be. She’d heard from a friend who’d seen the show the night before that he “seemed drunk or drugged and was off his musical game.” I told her I was afraid that might be the case, but we settled in to enjoy whatever he had to offer.

    From his opening number, to daughter Ashley’s fabulous rendition of a current song I’d heard but sure can’t tell you the title of, to Glen’s still-amazing guitar prowess (showcased in a thrilling romp thru the William Tell Overture… he played the last minute or two with his 12-string guitar sitting flat on the top of his head!), the smile never left my face.

    Yes, he spent a lot of his singing time looking down at the teleprompters on the floor, and it was comedic to watch he and the stage hand swapping out guitars and hear Glen ask what key this one was in before just about every song, but he was still Glen Campbell and I couldn’t have been happier with the experience I had.

    If you’re a Glen Campbell fan, and get the opportunity to “spend an evening” with him, do it. And if you or someone you know (regardless of age) is into righteous guitar playing, you can’t beat this old guy with a stick.

  6. I am a big Glen Campbell fan, and I saw him at the Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa last week. I have to agree with everything the reviewer said.

    Also Margaret, you say “anyone who starts a concert review with complaints about the cigarette smoke from the casino probably ought not to have come in the first place.” I don’t like smoke either. People have a right to smoke, but Todd and I should have the right to enjoy going somewhere without having to breathe smoke. Simply saying we “probably ought not to have come” is an ignorant blanket statement. Casinos thrive on people with addictive traits, thus, that is why they have made sure smoking is allowed inside casinos.

  7. Todd,
    What you fail to realize is that none of us grey hairs or blue hairs or whatever you prefer to call us expected to see the Glen Campbell of the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s. Seeing Glen in the intimate setting of a Casino in Central Iowa was a treat, as we more or less came to see the equivalent of an old friend and see how he’s doing. From the sounds of his voice and the still incredible guitar playing, I’d say he’s holding up very well, indeed. He was guilty of catering to us oldies that made up the bulk of the crowd there…any professional knows you “play to the crowd”.
    Actually, I think the Event Center at Riverside Casino is a great place to hold a show like Glen’s. I didn’t find the room “cold and dark” and the sound system was great.
    Oh…and one other point…the extended guitar solo Glen did was not on “Country Boy, but was taken when they played “Gentle on My Mind”. Oh, yeah…he was not playing a Fender Stratocaster…it’s a G&L guitar…seems you know about as much about guitars as you do Glen’s music.

  8. So now we know that Glen had early stage Alzheimer’s when you saw this performance. Does that change your perception of this concert?

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