Icon is a tough job, but Glen Campbell, 75, wears it well. Always the most humble of superstars, he’s never let his virtuosity overshadow the vulnerability of the characters he’s portrayed in song. It’s a quality that imbues his latest album, Ghost on the Canvas (Surfdog), and that informed his performance at the Wilbur Theatre last night.
Of course, Ghost on the Canvas is a “farewell” album and his show at the Wilbur was part of his “Goodbye” tour — announced after he revealed last June that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. So an artist whose biggest hits were in the ’60s and hasn’t played Boston in recent memory packed the hall with well-wishers who wanted a last — maybe their only — chance to see the icon.
They weren’t disappointed. Live last night, Campbell’s voice wasn’t as strong or consistent as it was on that studio album he began recording more than two years ago. But the expression — the beauty — were there. Whether he was yodeling on Hank Williams’s “Lovesick Blues” or dropping into a comic John Wayne growl in the same song, or, in “Wichita Lineman,” reaching for that high-lying a cappella phrase, “And I’m doing fine,” the good ol’ Glen persona was intact.
He sang a small handful of songs from the new album, but that was okay — we all wanted to hear “Gentle on My Mind” (the set opener), “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Try a Little Kindness,” “Southern Nights,” “Rhinestone Cowboy.” And he obliged. There were shaky bits, a lot of reading from the prompters, and lots of broad-smiled cues from his daughter, keyboardist and banjo player Ashley Campbell (three of Glen’s kids are in his backing band and also played in the opening band, Instant People). But Glen — dressed first in a midnight-blue jacket with rhinestone-shoulder trim, then the same model in white, over black shirt and pants — made fun of himself, played guitar like a dream, and sang with palpable pleasure. For most of us in the audience, the pleasure was mutual.