On a windy, brisk Friday night, the Reverend Al Green was welcomed back to Arkansas to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Little Rock’s River Market district. The show had been postponed in August due to 100-degree heat. Unfortunately, on the new date it was the troublesome cold rather than heat that accounted for the less-than-packed venue. Green playfully noted the frigid outdoor conditions while his band’s smoke effect blew horizontally across the stage.
But the Reverend quickly heated things up, delivering sexed-up soul songs and Hosanna-on-high hymns to his faithful fans.
Opening with “I Can’t Stop,” the title track off of his 2003 comeback album, 60-year-old Green sang, danced, smiled, laughed and gyrated through his hour-long set, a mix of old and new songs marrying the sexual and the spiritual.
A loose, jovial Green appeared comfortable onstage, stopping only to playfully talk about the weather and charm the audience, saying “It’s cold out here, let me warm you up, baby” and “That sweater ain’t doing no good, let me take you in my arms and hold you,” which he used to segue into “Let’s Get Married.”
While the cold air made for patchy vocals, especially when he reached for impossibly high notes, Green was backed by a tight, well-rehearsed band: two back-up singers, two guitarists, a bassist, an organist, a keyboardist, a drummer, a percussionist and a horn section, which was most impressive on “Here I Am (Come and Get Me).”
Dressed in a sharp black suit and dazzling white shirt and tie, Green looked youthful and energized. Moaning and rocking his pelvis, Green attracted women — young and old — to the front of the stage to hip shake right along with him. He passed out roses, shook their hands and kissed their babies.
From grinding to testifying, Green made smooth transitions from the love bed to the church pew, performing gospel numbers like “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and “Amazing Grace.” Swaying side-to-side, the crowd followed the Reverend’s lead, lifting their hands and voices in praise.
Green joked about asking God what he thought of his raunchy stuff: “I prayed to God about it, and God said, ‘How do you think you got here?’ ” then he proceeded to go into a timeless rendition of his 1972 hit “Let’s Stay Together” followed by “For the Good Times.” A bit later, under Green’s direction, the band played a cover medley of popular Four Tops, Temptations, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye songs, all of which, upon recognition, got loud cheers from the audience.
Crowd favorites “Still in Love with You,” “So Tired of Being Alone,” and “Love and Happiness” closed the show. Searching to find the high notes in his signature falsetto, Green stopped to ask, “Does Al Green still got it?” And whether or not he found them, it was obvious he could do no wrong. With his spirited, passionate delivery and natural grace and charm, if there were any doubting Thomases out there, the Reverend made believers out of them.
— Nicole Boddington