ROCK / You can call him Reverend Al

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The Independent Culture
THE CONQUERING hero at the head of the Capital Radio Jazz Parade, Al Green, makes the best entrance I have ever seen. The Royal Festival Hall MC bids us welcome 'a genius'. A man, demonstrably not Al, scuttles across the stage with a briefcase, possibly containing the great man's sandwiches. Backing singers, horn players, drummer, bass and guitar men and doughty female church organist Ambric Bridgeforth follow, and at last He erupts into our presence. Overcome with the abundance of his own ego, Al sashays a shiny-shoe shuffle, waves a little white hankie over his head and distributes red roses to adoring scions. The auditorium bathes in the light of his sequinned lapels.

It's not always been so easy being Green. The Reverend has had some narrow scrapes in his time - getting showered with boiling grits by a jealous admirer in 1974, falling off a high stage into a metal instrument case five years later - and each one has brought him a little closer to God. Fears that he might now have no truck with his old heathen sexy numbers are instantly allayed when he breaks into 'LOVE'. Break into it is just about all he does. 'Tired of Being Alone' and 'Let's Stay Together', too, are performed in sublime snatches, but a little bit of Al goes a long way and the crowd are happy to fill in the gaps.

He treats the stage not so much as a second home, more as a base camp, from which he launches extended forays into the crowd; embracing children - 'Thank God]' - and occasionally sitting down on a step to unleash the extraordinary throaty falsetto which drives respectable women to elbow boyfriends and husbands in the face in their keenness to shake Al's hand, or anything else they can get hold of.

Green's long-suffering band roll their eyes in unison. They are a match for his every caprice. They show no sign of irritation even when, just to keep them on their toes, Al shushes a swelling chorus and launches into a Sam Cooke medley, or brings on to the stage an ineffectual couple of Fine Young Cannibals.

When a legendary soul singer says 'there's no time-limit tonight; we can play for as long as we want', you know you're in for an early night, but Al has given such a great display of soulmanship that he can be forgiven for feeling the pace after an hour or so. By the end the crowd is behaving like Godspell extras, and if someone could bottle the sweat Reverend Green flicks away from beneath his chin, they'd make a killing. 'Sing it, Al,' a gruff voice barks from upstairs during 'Amazing Grace'. Who said the devil has all the best tunes?

The music of Neil Young is a very private pleasure, with the power to transform a car or a kitchen into a spiritual oasis, so sharing it with 28,000 other people in Finsbury Park is unnerving at first. Fortunately, the magic and mystery of Neil survives and even expands in the embrace of marauding trios of ecstatic (not to say drunk) Welshmen, who don't just sing along with the words, but with the guitar solos as well.

It's no wonder Young dresses like a lumberjack; he wields his guitar like a woodcutter would a chainsaw, channelling its terrifying destructive potential with extraordinary finesse. 'Feedback? I hate feedback,' proclaims the veteran sonic frontiersman. 'No, wait a minute, I love feedback - I'm having an identity crisis here.' Some confusion is forgiveable. This unlikely union with Booker T & the MGs is (after Weld's feedback orgy and the plaintive caress of Unplugged) Neil's third complete back catalogue overhaul in as many years.

Its finest moments come when Young plays to the strengths of his remarkable backing band. Booker T lights up 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' with a celestial organ solo, and there's an unforgettable encore, as back- up guitar hero Steve Cropper lets the new boss loose on '(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay'. Neil looks naked without his guitar, but makes a great fist of the whistling bit with his harmonica. He sings 'I left my home in Canada/Headed for the 'Frisco bay' and somewhere, far away, Otis Redding doesn't feel so blue.

At the Clapham Grand, Courtney Love's Hole trample the grapes of patriarchy into a most excellent whine. She flings off her disguise of wig, suit and sunglasses to reveal her own style of power-apparel - bleached mop hair and ideologically loaded slip- dress. Her band are fierce and compact and Courtney does much more than just tell good jokes and cheerfully bad-mouth her enemies. She has two voices - a vicious garnet-paper rasp, and another that sings different notes - and both are equally well worth listening to. 'Someone should tell Anne Boleyn/Chokers are back in again' is a couplet made in heaven.