Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"Let's See If Al's Still Got It": Al Green In Hammersmith 11.7.07

This post was ready last Tuesday, but I've begun my holiday in France and have had no luck getting to a computer until today! Sorry for the needless waiting!:

As Candi's band leave the stage I am joined by a bunch of people who are surprised to see such a soul great leaving so soon. Nevertheless, they are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Reverend Al Green. They have seen him twice before, and as one of them describes it: "It's impossible to stay in your seat when Al Green is on stage." They were right. I tell you, we did not stop jumping up, singing and responding to Rev Green the whole time.

At 8:30, Al Green bounds on to stage, carrying his trademark roses for the crowd, flanked by two warm up dancers who do a routine while Al gets into I Can't Stop. People are already out of their seats to find space to dance, and girls are pushing to the front and leaning onto the stage so that Al can reward them with a kiss or a plastic rose. As if sensing the exhalted, maybe fevered, atmosphere of expectation, Al finishes the song and greets us with humour:

"Now, sit down folks, relax! I'll do the work; you enjoy the concert..."

Al moves into Let's Make Love, which hardly serves to calm the ladies down, especially when he explains "I'm gonna sooooothe you...". Throughout this song, Al and his dancers go through a fascinating series of hand gestures, gentle twirls and poses. Sophisticated and smooth are just words.

Al chats about recent events: "Did you hear about those guys that drove into the airport? What was that? I tell you, friends of mine called me up from the US and they said, Al, stay over there! Sure glad they caught all them guys."

Time for a little bit of gospel from Everything's OK, as the Reverend Green sings Everything Gonna Be Alright (He's Coming Back). It goes down well, and we get to sing a chorus back to the Reverend and for whoever is up above.

"We're in Hammersmith (cheers)! You know, all I can think is, I wanna be out there with you! I went to the Royal Albert Hall (Al puts on an upper-class accent for this, and the crowd go 'oooh'). Man, I had to be careful I didn't walk on a rug!" And Al laughs at the memory.

I was reading beforehand some of the comments on the Southern Soul Group forum, and I had been a little taken aback at how non-plussed some of the contributors seemed to have been with Al Green at the Albert Hall. I did start to worry that the experience was not going to be up to my hopes. I suppose people were expecting something resembling a note-for-note CD recording, and were not prepared for the call-outs, the banter, the stagecraft and sing-along that we received from a consummate live performer. Equally, who should expect a pyrotechnic light-show, when the key to the music is the man, his heart and his voice. For that, a plastic rose in the hand of a woman (or man!) is the one-to-one connection that makes the song come alive. I have to say much of the trouble perhaps stems from the venue: the Albert Hall is not a venue that creates an atmosphere, and thus no wonder people would start to feel something was missing. It was all much plainer to see and feel when crammed into the more intimate and human Apollo theatre. It's getting so warm, Al tears off his jacket and throws it down:

"Somebody told em, Take it off! Somebody else said, put it on - its cold in here!"

Al brings us to a hush and begins to sing Amazing Grace, and asks us to sing with him. The moment of reflection is brought to a close when Al directs us:

"Let's take it back to the beginning. 1972." And he sings Let's Stay Together.

It's all about the moments and the personal stuff. Al gives us another hit straight away, with How Can You Mend A Broken Heart. This is when he introduces us to his daughter Deborah Green, on backing vocals. Al does a nice line of 'la la las' in synch with Deborah's backing, then abruptly signals stop: "Wait!"

Everyone holds their breath. What could be wrong?

Al smiles. "I wanna make it sound just like the record!" And he launches straight back in, this time floating even more effortlessly!

It seems the song has put someone into the mood, and Al is quick to spot them:

"Hey, leave the lady alone, I saw ya! She don't holler like that for nothing!" But who can blame them, and should we stop them? After all, Al tells us, now its "1974!". It makes the world go around - Here I Am, Come And Take Me.

Things take an unexpected detour now.

"I'm feeling like I wanna sing songs that aren't on the list. Songs that tell you where our songs come from, so you know why they lasted so long. Maybe they've helped somebody along the way. Raise your hand if they've helped you along!" The hands go up all over. Al treats us to a medley of short snippets from a few popular soul classics, all familiar, in tribute to his vocal heroes and southern soul antecendents Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. The Four Tops also get Al's salute, as he sings through Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch/Bring It On Home/My Girl/Sitting' On The Dock Of The Bay/Wonderful World.

I'm So Tired Of Being Alone gets us back up to a fever pitch again, and Al is loving it so much he has to do something to savour the moment. He halts before the crescendo to holler:

"Let's see if Al's still got it! He used to have it... YEAAAAAHHHHH!"

And he falls to his knees and nails the high note.

Al Green goes into the crowd in the next song to show I'm Still In Love With You. Walking back along the front row, a blonde woman stands up and blocks his way, so that Al is going to give her that hug she is after! Al clambers back on stage, and while the band play behind him, he tells us how proud he is to have his daughter working with him, and carrying on the singing tradition. But there's still stuff he can teach her, he teases:

"She's always asking me, How do I hit that high note, Dad?" Al looks over to Deborah, smiles, and hums a little pastiche of Mercy, Mercy Me. I assume Debbie Green is used to this!

"Well, you do it something like this .... AAAHHHH!"

The band kick in more powerfully, and now we are into the final song Love And Happiness. And as we get to that moment, Al has to milk the crowd some more:

"Wait! Let me do it once more! I like that!" One more high note!

The crowd cheer and clap as Al waves goodbye and leaves the stage, and the band segue into their instrumental showpiece, Funky Nassau. One by one they are introduced by the musical director and get to do their thing. I was particularly impressed with the sound of Dave Cook on the electric clarinet, and now I can place that strange pulsating buzzy vibe in so many songs!

It was all over as the lights came up, and we had been treated to a show. Only three questions troubled me as I left the gallery. Why no encore? Still, you can't say Al Green hadn't given it his all. Next, why did the musical directer go wild with a Hendrix style 'throw the guitar on the ground and jump on it' routine? Well, he's got to be as excited as we were! Finally, why was the intermission music made up entirely of Roxy Music tracks? Which just goes to show you great music comes in many forms!

Al Green Set List:
I Can't Stop
Let's Make Love
Everything's Gonna Be Alright (He's Coming Back)
Amazing Grace
Let's Stay Together
Here I Am (Come And Take Me)
Medley: Sugar Pie Honey Bunch/Bring It On Home/My Girl/Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay/Wonderful World
I'm So Tired Of Being Alone
I'm Still In Love With You
Love And Happiness
(Al Green departs)
Funky Nassau (band only)

As usual, I can't take photos of anything! Images of Al Green from the Al Green tour programme, and from Juan Pérez-Fajardo's photos of the Madrid show on 11th July - EDIT: Blogger has just deleted the picture I uploaded for the third time!!! Follow the link to see the photos for yourself.


gilles said...

exactly what i was looking and waiting for.... thanks

The Stepfather of Soul said...

I had lucked into some free tickets to see the Rev. Al and B.B. King here in Atlanta but had to pass on going (argh!) - I've always found Al's shows to be entertaining, and although I have indeed heard of a few lackluster shows (reading the same reviews you did on that point, I'm sure), he's got more soul going in his pinkie finger than a lot of contemporary acts. Long live Al Green!

Rob Whatman said...

Glad you enjoyed the Al green tunes, Gilles! I hope I picked a couple that some people might not have heard very often.

Jason, I am very envious that you live right in the heartland of soul. Ah...

NOTE: I'm in France on holiday, right now, but I have one post pre-written, about Eddy Mitchell, which I'll try to post about Wednesday. Then, I have something ready about Alvin Cash and Andre Williams, which I'll post when I get back on the 21st.