Glen Campbell : Athens GA Classic Center

When Glen and co. return to the stage, it's Christmas time...

A quick survey of the stage setup reveals vibes, pedal steel, slide guitars and tasteful plaid lumberjack shirts. In short, contemporary respect for country’s past. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that Wilco were on the bill tonight. But they aren’t, instead the pipes’n’slippers set are here to see Glen Campbell, the onetime Beach Boy who’s been mixing pop melody and country sensibility since Jeff Tweedy was in diapers.

Glen’s old duet partner Bobbie Gentry can’t be here tonight, instead he’s brought daughter Debbie along. Together they assume the identities of everyone from Johnny and June Cash (1969’s ‘Jackson’) to Sonny And Cher (‘All I Ever Need Is You’). Glen tells the crowd that its been “11 years since I stopped suckin’ on them cigs” before leaving Debbie to run through some renditions of her own, at which point the band informs us that they’ll be back after a brief intermission.

Intermission? Of course! What better way to separate the secular from the holy, because make no mistake about it, when Glen and co. return to the stage, it’s Christmas time. He’s got a Grammy-nominated holiday album to plug, after all. It’s smiles all around from the ageing crowd when we’re informed that Glen once did ‘White Christmas’ with Bing Crosby, and similarly when we’re told that Glen actually will be home for Christmas this year (‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’). Aww.

A countrified ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ is followed by a self-admitted teleprompter-assisted ‘Winter Wonderland’. Debbie returns for ‘Silver Bells’ and a solo ‘Blue Christmas’ that indie-obscurantists will remember from last year’s Low ‘Christmas’ album. And then Campbell, renowned in his day for his studio guitarist wizardry, returns to the stage not with his trademark 12-string, but with bagpipes. He can’t play drums, so he’s changed around ‘Little Drummer Boy’ to be about playing ‘his pipes’ instead. And he actually does play the bagpipes, and quite proficiently.

At this point the cynics might begin to wonder if they’ve been had by a master showman. As kids from 1 to 91 sing along to the encore’s ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ (“the No. 1 song of 1975” intones Glen) and ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ (written by the Webb Brothers’ dad) you realize that for once, irony and being had wasn’t the point at all. After all, it is Christmas, you know.

Christopher Huttman