Story and Photos by Tony BonyataIt may have been a man of the church on stage at the intimate Northern Lights Theatre last Wednesday night, but, make no mistake, when the Reverend Al Green stepped into the spotlight it was the love of music, more than that of the Lord, that he was there to preach to the sold-out audience.
Back in the early '70s Al Green was an extremely successful entertainer who dominated both R&B and pop charts with his sensual brand of soul music. After recovering from an assault from a former girlfriend (where she severely burnt the singer by pouring hot grits over him in the shower) Green converted to Christianity and was ordained a pastor for the Full Gospel Tabernacle church in Memphis back in 1976 (where he still continues to preach) Although Green has recorded many gospel albums and has also been inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame, his recent show in Milwaukee would instead focus primarily on his most famous secular music from his past. Which was, after all, what the majority of his fans were there to hear.
Wearing a crisp white suit, the happy and healthy looking 58-year old singer led his stage-sprawling 14-piece band (complete with horn section and background singers) through the lively opener "I Can't Stop," an energetic number steeped in funk from his 2003 album of the same name.
Despite touching on two religious numbers early in the set - the mighty "He's Coming Back" and the slow groove-turned-big, bluesy gospel of "Amazing Grace" - the tone of this ridiculously short hour-long performance was more a distilled, yet powerful showcase of his greatest hits from the peak of his career. The singer nailed hits such as the smooth "I'm Still In Love with You," the funked-up "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," Let's Stay Together" and "Let's Get Married." But it was during his number "I'm Tired of Being Alone" that Green proved why the ladies (and there were plenty of them in attendance) still swoon over this soul singer-turned-clergyman. Not only did his voice sound as commanding as ever - delivering his signature sexually charged falsetto screams - but as the good Rev. danced, clapped and tempted the ladies with hugs and kisses while handing out roses to them, it was also evident that he still treasures the love of performing - especially for his female fans.
While the majority of the music performed was from a time when the singer was leading a decidedly more hedonistic lifestyle, he still managed to toss in a few short homilies in between numbers. "Dumping fifty cents, or a dollar, or five dollars into a machine isn't a sin," Green explained with arms extended towards the audience. "Sleeping with your neighbor's wife is a sin." Despite the sincerity of his words, there was no denying the devilish glimmer in his eye when he crooned to the receptive women in the front row.
Not only have his years of fronting his church left him with a commanding stage presence, but Green also proved to be the consummate bandleader as well - as he turned around and pulled in the band's reigns whenever they threatened to overpower his own vocal delivery. "Shhh, quiet down," he scolded his orchestra. "These people gotta hear something sexy and sensual from the preacher! I've come out here to have a good time!" Which was also exactly what his audience came for and got from this religious man, who at least for the moment, returned to a time when his love for the ladies was greater than his love for the Lord.
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