Al Green/Michael McDonald, O2 Arena, London
Reviewed by Ian McCann
Wednesday 30 June 2010
Pity the opening act that had to get an audience on its feet hours after England's footballing pretensions were exposed. Especially as most of it had come "to see if the Reverend's still got it", to borrow the clergyman's own words. But Michael McDonald battled manfully with glum English faces and the fact that soul music should not be made by those who look like Kenny Rogers, and earned a dancing crowd with "What a Fool Believes". Sitting centre stage behind an electric piano, he was hardly the egotistical frontman, sharing much of the vocal chores with drummer Yvette Preyer, and giving Brummie soulster Jakki Graham the unenviable chance to step into Patti LaBelle's stilettos for "On My Own", which she wore admirably. The best and final song, "Takin' It to the Streets", had a gospel feel: more was to come.
The last time I saw Al Green it was the mid-80s and he was fighting yells of "Play the old songs Al!" when all he wanted to do was the Lord's work. Now he has no fear of his hits. His 10-piece band was the tightest I've seen since James Brown's passing (no wonder Dave Gilmour and Jools Holland, who backed him on Jonathan Ross, sat this one out) and his harmony quartet, three of which are his daughters, sang like angels.
Not that Al needed the help. Never was a singer more in touch with his – God-given, in this case – talent. He worked the crowd like the preacher he is; voicing minimally on "Amazing Grace", letting rip on "Nearer My God To Thee", wafting through "Let's Stay Together", and opening the emotional taps fully on "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" – at the end of which, almost unnoticed, he supplied the answer to his own question. An impromptu "Simply Beautiful" lived up to its title and "Love and Happiness" and "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)" were delights, performed straight. Bursting with born-again joy after all these years even on his carnal material, the Reverend really does still have it.
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