Witnessing Al Green in concert is a religious experience – and it has nothing to do with his status as a Reverend.
He flings his suit jacket off when it’s necessary to belt unrestrained by excess clothing, sweats and bends over to suck in a lungful of air before revving up for another timeless soul anthem and shouts “Somebody say Amen!” when the time arrives for a gently swinging “Amazing Grace.”
Green is a legend, and his Friday night concert at the Fox Theatre – his first time playing the venerable venue – was steeped in sentiment.
Granted, at only 13 songs and an hour and 15 minutes, the show could have felt annoyingly abbreviated. But Green is so present onstage – he arrived in a black suit and sunglasses and quickly bestowed long-stemmed red roses to a bevy of women as he sang “Ain’t No Fun” – that the brevity of his performance was tempered by its substance.
Backed by a stellar lineup of 13 – a trio of brass players, a threesome of backup singers and seven musicians – Green reveled in the spotlight. He followed the bass groove of “Let’s Get Married” and punctuated it with a little hop; dropped to his knees for a silken rendition of “For the Good Times”; and edged into the first few rows of an energized audience during “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”
In a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Green, 73, talked about how he remains humble (an edict from his mother). Onstage at the Fox, he astutely noted, “A lot of entertainers and singers have ‘gone on,’ but I’m still here. Thank you, Jesus.”
It was an acknowledgement of modesty from someone whose life had fallen into many dark corners throughout his 50-plus years as a performer. But Green’s decades-long turnaround has imbued him with obvious gratitude.
His Friday performance of his only No. 1 hit, “Let’s Stay Together,” was so emotionally perfect that anyone not moved to tears needs the ice removed from their veins. By pairing his most popular ballad with a cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” Green presented a master class on phrasing and leading a band through musical spikes and trenches.
His voice throughout the concert was a flawless combination of gruffness – exhibited on “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” coated with its signature horns – and sensational upper-range crooning.
His vocal runs during the sublime “Tired of Being Alone” induced chills and the seductive ballad, “Simply Beautiful,” was so entrenched in ardor, it required another ditching of the suit jacket.
Green’s tour – his first in almost seven years – has expanded from its initial run of five shows to a handful more (he said in our interview that a couple of dozen dates were on the docket). His outings aren’t frequent and his Sunday preaching at Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis, Tenn., is always a priority.
That said, don’t miss the opportunity to behold The Reverend live. Even in brief form, it’s a revelation.
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