“Who wouldn’t want to be married to Al Green?” writes a neophyte reviewer in Time Out New York this week.
Okay, I will tell you, dear, because you are probably very young: 35 years ago on this day, a married woman whom Al Green was seeing poured hot water and grits on him while the superstar singer was taking a bath at his Memphis estate. He peeled away burnt flesh and heard shots from a gun. Mary Woodson had shot herself dead. Oh yes, she did.
Al had a single out right then called “Let’s Get Married,” and Mary, according to him, got the idea that she wanted to be married to him. He had other ideas.’ It was 1974, and right after that Al had a religious epiphany and became Reverend Al. In a 1984 documentary by Robert Mugge, he said, “Sometimes I can’t believe it happened and I have to ask people if the woman was faking it.” No, it really happened.
Last night at BB King’s Blues Club in Times Square, the Reverend Al Green was back. He charged $180 and performed for one hour and five minutes with no encore. He is 63 years old and still has his voice, his amazing tenor falsetto, and a gorgeous sweet growl.
When he’s interested in the material, Al Green comes alive and is briefly engaged. In more recent songs like “Lay It Down” and “Everything’s Alright,” he seemed to be almost fully present. But at other times, he encourages the audience to sing most of the song. He throws long stem roses at them. He forgets the words to his hits. Last night, he crossed his arms and went into some kind of two-second trance. I thought maybe he was dozing.
To say Al Green gives a frustrating performance is an understatement. If only he took it all seriously as a musician instead of giving a “party” on stage. He runs through one verse apiece of several R&B hits from “My Girl” to “I Can’t Help Myself” to “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.”’ Each is a suggestion of something that could be life changing. In his own “For the Good Times,” there is one minute of ‘a cappella. Is he afraid to sing a whole song? Whom does he think it will bore, the audience or the singer? It’s an ADD variety hour.
He included “L-O-V-E (Love)” as his opener, but there was “Take Me to the River.” “Tired of Being Alone” was converted into a throwaway. Too bad. The original Willie Mitchell co-written and produced Hi recordings stand the test of time as classics. Al is only 63, a little paunchier but seemingly able to lead a band including his three eldest daughters. (He has at least six children by my count.) If he could drop the roses, and the poses, and be serious for a minute, he might be able to leave an important legacy. He owes it to us, and he owes it to himself.
But there’s nothing wrong with a party. The audience didn’t seem to care; they mostly loved it. And when Al Green shines, especially with “I’m Still In Love With You,” you realize he’s still got it. And then, he’s gone.
Pick to click: Al Green and the immortal Billy Preston, “You’ve Got a Friend“