Al Green, Royal Albert Hall, London
Monday 10 November 2008
Even if you didn't know that Al Green was an ordained minister, his concert performances would leave no room for doubt, in all senses of the term.
There's the teasing way that he draws you in with his copious between-songs patter, bite-size sermons playfully tiptoeing the line between sacred and secular love. There's the way that he involves the congregation – sorry, the audience – in singalongs of classic soul fragments, a verse apiece of songs such as "I Can't Help Myself", "My Girl", "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and "Dock of the Bay", afterwards inviting us to give ourselves a round of applause, as if asking for an "Amen!". And there's the way he attentively reads a crowd, responding to each shout of "We love you, Al!" with a genial "I love you, too".
Not that he needs to cajole anyone tonight: this audience is full of true believers, if not in God, then certainly in Green, whose keening squeal of joy remains pitch-perfect even at 62. While the band vamps steadily behind him, he prowls the stage in his immaculate three-piece suit, his arms full of long-stemmed red roses, bestowing them graciously upon the lucky ladies in the front few rows. Now when was the last time Liam Gallagher did that, if ever?
The opening stages are given over to fairly routine runs through the better tracks from his more recent albums, such as "I Can't Stop" and "Lay It Down". A warmly received version of his 1973 classic "Let's Get Married" is extended through solos by the guitarist and pianist, the latter securing applause for knocking over his stool, Jerry Lee Lewis-style, as he hammers away at the keyboard.
Later, Green quietly croons "Amazing Grace", and seems genuinely moved as the crowd sings softly along. "Everybody clap your hands!" he announces, and the band swings into "Let's Stay Together". It's the first of a string of hits: "Take Me to the River", "Tired of Being Alone", "I'm Still In Love With You", "Love and Happiness". It's hard to think of another performer who could elicit such an exquisite emotional caress from a mere succession of "la la la"s, as he does in "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?".
His reward is such an outpouring of affection that at one point he protests: "I'm only one little man. I got love coming from over here, I got love coming from over there, and I got a whole lotta love coming from over here" – cheers from each section of the audience in turn – "and I can't handle all of that love!" Methinks he doth protest too much.
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