By the Time I Get to Phoenix
Though the Travis Country Expo Center sits toward my end of town, Austin Rodeo, installed there since 1984, didn’t blip my radar until last year when Joan Jett, Rick Springfield, and George Jones all performed the week following SXSW. In a new, concert program-like hardback book, Austin Rodeo, subtitled “Blue Ribbons, Buckin’ Broncs & Big Dreams,” rapper Nelly motions from the mainstage in 2005. Wish I’d known then about the formally-titled Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo.
This year, in the work torture leading up to the massive music festival, Austin Rodeo announced its 2012 musical component, top tier acts trucked out into the center of the arena to a circular rotating stage after the horse riding, calf roping, mutton bustin’, bull riding, etc. There in the middle of the event’s two-week run was one headliner not roped in by SXSW: The Rhinestone Cowboy.
Beyond Campbell’s 2003 box set, and having missed his previous local appearance two years later at the Riverbend Centre, I’d had little contact with his oeuvre beyond being old enough to remember when “Rhinestone Cowboy” studded Top 40 radio. When it was announced that Campbell’s 2011 LP Ghost on the Canvas would be his final studio release thanks to his deteriorating mental health, his narrative flared up again in the mainstream. Ghost, which successfully pairs Campbell’s symphonic croon to songs by Paul Westerberg, Robert Pollard, Jakob Dylan, and Teddy Thompson, matched up to moving pieces in media such as Rolling Stone.
Leading up to SXSW, Glen Campbell Live in Japan arrived in the mail from new indie reissue venture Real Gone Music. Originally issued only in the Far East, the 1975 concert captures the singer-guitarist at his peak in a stiff setting with a stiff set. John Denver cover “Annie’s Song” reiterates Campbell’s interpretive gifts, but “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Linemen,” two of the headliner’s greatest hits in collaboration with songwriter Jimmy Webb, are delivered in medley, and “Rhinestone Cowboy” is out in favor of closers “My Way” and a shrill blow-up of the “William Tell Overture.”
At the Expo Center, Campbell’s mild befuddlement onstage was every bit as poignant as had been portrayed in print, but there was nothing wrong with his lump-in-throat run through “Galveston,” another Webb indelible, or “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Regretfully, ACL beckoned, so we only stayed for half of the hour-long show. No “Rhinestone Cowboy” for those of us still on deadline.
Still, what stands out most from those 25 minutes was Campbell’s picking. When he and his daughter engaged on “Dueling Banjos” from Deliverance, Papa Campbell brought 10 fleet fingers to his six-string foggy mountain breakdown and bluegrass upbringing. All his guitar leads were thrilling in fact.
Later, the Shins delivered one of ACL’s most explosive indie rock performances, bottled lightning approached earlier in the week down on Red River only by Brooklyn’s the Men. Bruce Springsteen’s SXSW keynote speech needs to become its own LP.
Those and other highlights dot my March madness this year, but Live in Japan gets at least one thing right – its closer. “Amazing Grace” also sums up Glen Campbell at the 2012 Austin Rodeo.