In what other world would you imagine viewing Glen Campbell and Lindsey Buckingham side by side? In what other pop universe, would you even consider it? And yet, here they are — two veterans of pop eras past playing Lexington almost as neighbors.
This week, they perform at the Lexington Opera House on successive nights. The back-to-back bookings make a compare-and-contrast study between the two seem more unavoidable than unlikely.
In one corner we have Campbell, a country-pop stylist who has inhabited his hits of the '60s and '70s so fully that you almost can't help but consider their titles as aliases for his musical persona. No, he didn't write them. But for all practical purposes, Campbell is the Wichita Lineman. He is the Rhinestone Cowboy.
But on a very different artistic plane sits Buckingham, the guitarist/vocalist/ songsmith who in 1975 — roughly the time Campbell was riding high on the pop charts with a good-natured cover of Allen Toussaint's Southern Nights — helped catapult Fleetwood Mac from a neo-psychedelic blues alliance with revolving-door membership to one of the most bankable pop-rock forces on the planet. Listen to any of his underrated solo recordings, though, and the guy comes across like a mad scientist, a California hybrid of Brian Wilson and Captain Beefheart.
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This week, one night after the other, both will play for you.
The 'Goodtime' guy
My first encounter with Campbell's music came in 1968. Gentle on My Mind, his hit version of John Hartford's breezy folk classic, had introduced Campbell to the world a year earlier. But when he became the Sunday night summer replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, one of the favorite TV programs in our house, a more personal notice was taken.
Of course, everything snowballed for the singer about that time thanks not to television exposure — and a resulting variety series called The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour that ran for three years — but through a trio of landmark hits all written by Jimmy Webb.
By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Wichita Lineman and Galveston took Campbell to the top of the pop charts in 1967, 1968 and 1969. They were sublime hits in terms of composition, arrangement and the thoroughly amiable vocal delivery that made Campbell the new country-reared sound of middle-of-the-road pop.
There were hits and misses after that. Rhinestone Cowboy and Southern Nights triggered a commercial renaissance in the mid-'70s, only to be followed at the dawn of the '80s by a stormy, heavily publicized relationship with country star Tanya Tucker that made them fodder for the tabloids.
Today, Campbell, 76, is bowing out almost against his will. Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease more than a year ago, he has released Ghost on the Canvas, an album of downcast songs by an array of unexpected contemporary pop and rock celebrities (among them, Billy Corgan, Chris Isaak and Paul Westerberg) and has sailed into what seems to be the final stages of his lengthy Goodbye Tour.
"Once a purveyor of highly successful country crossover hits that shone with slickness and confidence, he's in deteriorating form now, ragged even at his best," Jon Caramanica wrote in The New York Times' review of a concert by Campbell in January.
On Tuesday, we will see how the Rhinestone Cowboy fares at his final Kentucky roundup.
One man Mac
The last time Lindsey Buckingham played in Lexington was fall 1982. The pop warhorse he co-piloted, Fleetwood Mac, was in the midst of its third Rupp Arena concert in five years. To give you a sense of the time, Men at Work was the opening act.
You could sense the shift already. Where the appeal of Fleetwood Mac up to that point was divided more or less evenly between his songs and the music that Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie brought to the band, the '82 show clearly put Buckingham in the driver's seat. He turned the non-hit Not That Funny, a fractured bit of pop mayhem from 1979's Tusk, into a trio rampage with group founders Mick Fleetwood and John McVie that largely flew in the face of the band's sleek, radio-friendly image.
Fleetwood Mac still exists. In fact, a tour is in the works for next year. But the recent rush of solo albums Buckingham has released (five in six years) points to the kind of agitated pop craftsman he remains at heart. The 2006 album Under the Skin, the best of the solo records, boasts dizzying, finger-picking guitar joy rides (the opening Not Too Late) as well as luxurious contemplations (the Brazilian-flavored finale Juniper). The tunes also come dressed with vocals that sound alternately stressed, possessed and enchanted.
"His stamina kept the music's energy fresh and volatile," wrote Ben Ratliff in The New York Times of a performance that followed Under the Skin's release. "At times, he seemed to be nearing a state of hypnosis while booming away on voice and guitar."
Voice and guitar also define Buckingham's newest album, a digital-only concert recording titled One Man Show, which will be released Tuesday, and the solo acoustic performance he will give this week at the Opera House.
But if One Man Show is any indication, the latter will be anything but a polite, folky affair. At 63, Buckingham is a pop soul pursuing his muse with the most restless and reliable accompanist he could find: himself.