Like all good men who show up late, Al Green brought flowers.
With his concert starting almost thirty minutes late, and the audience growing restless, the infinitely stylish Al Green walked onto the stage at Hard Rock Live last night carrying a bouquet of red roses. Dressed in a black suit, sunglasses, and white gloves, he then began to toss those roses, one by one, into the front row, where women pushed, jostled, and hip-checked each other to catch them.
Then, with the formalities out of the way, Al Green got down to business.
Kicking things off was Green's 1973 funk-cover "It Ain't No Fun To Me," which almost immediately got the crowd clapping and dancing along. As he sang, Green disrobed pieces of his stuffy costume, tossing his white gloves, sunglasses, and jacket to the floor as if he were coming home from a long day at work. It seemed a demonstration of Green getting comfortable, of wanting the audience to see him in a more genuine light.
And that's the amazing thing about Al Green. On the one hand, he is a music superstar, a living legend of R&B. But on the other, he is as likeable and down-to-earth as the ice-cream man.
So when Al Green sang and danced and shrieked through classics like "Back Up Train" and "Still In Love with You," you got the feeling that he wasn't just singing because he had to, because it was one more stop on his concert tour, you got the feeling that he actually appreciated your presence. You truly believed that the eight-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee was happy you came to see him.
And that kind of love doesn't go unreturned.
With each song, Green was joined by roughly 1,000 back-up singers, as almost everyone in the audience knew the lyrics and could croon right along with him. Green welcomed the help with open arms, staying silent for minutes at a time while the audience serenaded him with the music and lyrics he made famous. He was lucky, too. There didn't seem to be one bad voice in the crowd.
Of course, any Al Green concert wouldn't be complete without a healthy dose of preaching. And this one was no exception. After a soulful rendition of "Amazing Grace," Green moved on to what he called his one-minute sermon, a brief but touching homily on the nature of life after death. It was a meaningful and necessary part of the concert for a soul-singer turned pastor, but it also served another purpose: setting up one of the funkiest renditions of "Love and Happiness" I've ever heard.
Al Green's performance on this tune was pure sensuality, and for some audience members, the sexual hypnotism onstage proved too hard to resist. One woman, gyrating her hips in hopes of being thrown a rose, had to be removed by security personnel for getting too close to the band - twice. Later, someone threw what was either a small woman's blouse or the biggest pair of panties I've ever seen onto the stage near Green's feet. But Green, consummate performer that he is, didn't bat an eye. He's used to these things by now.
The best part of the concert came next, when Green and the band performed a medley of Motown covers that had the audience reliving its glory days. The soul music sampler platter included songs like the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself," Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," Sam Cooke's "Wonderful," and The Stylistics' "You Are Everything." It was a fitting homage to the musical tradition that made Green famous, the same musical tradition for which Green is now the official torchbearer.
The final number of the night was the highly popular and much anticipated "Let's Get Together." And at 66, Al Green proved he still had what it takes to bring an audience to its feet. The song was a pitch-perfect rendition of the original, with falsettos just as high, low notes just as velvety, and dance moves just as funky as they were 40 years ago. Except for his waist size, Al Green hadn't changed a bit.
And when the last song was over, when the final red rose had sailed into the front row seats, Al Green left the stage and headed back to his dressing room. The show, as it would seem, was over.
But the audience wasn't done dancing. That the band stopped playing didn't faze them. That the man they paid good money to see was no longer in the same room as them didn't matter at all. They simply couldn't stop grooving to the music in their heads.
And that's the other thing about Al Green: His music sinks in deep, to the bone. Once it's in you, it's almost impossible to get out. The houselights can't do it. Neither can the ushers filing you out into the street. The only remedy is to keep on dancing.
If you ride down to the Hollywood Hard Rock right now, and if you look hard enough, you will probably still see some people dancing in the streets, trying to get those Al Green songs out of their system.
Wish them good luck. They might be there for a while.
"It Aint' No Fun to Me"
"Take Me to the River"
"For the Good Times"
"I'm Still In Love with You"
"Back Up Train"
"Tired of Being Alone"
"Can't Get Next to You"
"Let's Stay Together"