Songwriter Jimmy Webb’s performances long have been a mix of music and stories, with the composer sitting at the piano and sprinkling bits of illustrious personal history between solo renditions of his best-known songs. His new show “The Glen Campbell Years” takes a similar approach, but it’s a more compelling presentation, thanks to video and taped-audio accompaniment that brings his longtime friend into the moment.
“I honest to god wish Glen was here to sing this tonight, but he’s not, so I’m going to have to do it,” Webb said as he launched into “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,” a challenging tune that soared to remarkable vocal heights when Campbell sang it. The songwriter’s own rendition was still magical; Webb gives it his all as he reaches for the most dramatic high notes. But that introduction was poignant: It underscored that Webb is doing these shows because Alzheimer’s has left Campbell no longer able to perform.
And so we hear Campbell join Webb on virtual audio-visual duets of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman,” the first two hits the songwriter and singer produced in tandem when they hooked up in the late 1960s. Webb relates that they didn’t even meet until after “Phoenix” had become a smash, and that he gave “Wichita” to Campbell as an work-in-progress follow-up single. Campbell recorded it just as it was; when Webb reminded him that the song wasn’t finished yet, Glen replied, “Well it is now!”
Not all of the nearly two-hour show focused exclusively on Campbell. Webb told much of his own story as well, including how Motown group the 5th Dimension came to sweep the Grammys with his 1967 breakthrough smash “Up, Up and Away.” The video footage of hot-air balloons cruising across the sky gave Webb’s performance of the song a special lift, as did the members of the sold-out crowd when he asked for their help to hit the climactic note in the chorus: “We can FLY!”
Near the end of the night, Webb noted that he would be visiting Campbell in Nashville the next day, before a Tuesday performance that will include appearances by three of Campbell’s children. He prefaced “Postcard From Paris,” a Webb song Campbell recorded on his final album a couple of years ago, by saying that he hopes Glen is remembered as “one of the gentle souls of this world.” It was a warmly human way to conclude a program that underscored Campbell’s superhuman achievements as one of the 20th-century’s great musicians.
2. Amazing Grace
3. Honey Come Back
4. By the Time I Get to Phoenix
5. Up, Up and Away
6. Wichita Lineman
7. Where’s the Playground Susie
8. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
10. Postcard From Paris
11. MacArthur Park