Al Green holds a satisfying soul clinic at Hill Auditorium
Two-thirds of the way through his command performance at Hill Auditorium on Saturday, Al Green brought the band down low and asked the question he’d already answered.
“People are wanting to know, ‘Does Al still got it?” Green said, answering himself with a falsetto wail that was emblematic of his compact, 70-minute show: a little over the top, perfectly executed and maybe just a little bit cheesy. But only in a good way.
Any questions about whether Green, at 66, still has it, were dispelled from the start. Blending impeccable stagecraft with a voice that can still do amazing things, Green was in control throughout the performance, blending his iconic 1970s hits, covers, medleys and a healthy dose of gospel into his short set.
Green still has it, and he left it all on stage on Saturday.
Ever the showman, Green incorporated every trick in the book, handing out dozens of roses, shedding his dinner jacked and bowtie even flicking brow sweat on the front rows.
But it was his voice, ranging from a gritty howl to a soaring falsetto, that sold the songs, many of which, let’s be honest, don’t have a lot to them. But Green is more than a technician; he’s a stylist and, on Saturday, he found ways to infuse unexpected intervals and changes into tired material like Roy Orbison’s “”Oh, Pretty Woman” and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.”
Green who for decades ignored his R&B roots in favor of gospel music an preaching at his own church in Memphis, Tenn., was arguably at his best when he leavened his heartily steamily secular material with doses of sacred music.
His reinvention of “Amazing Grace” was a stunner, as he painted around the melody, often only singing every third or fourth word, while his two daughters stacked harmonies. It was a remarkable performance and the clear highlight of Saturday’s show.
Also notable was Green’s band, which successfully walked the tightrope between oldies-act karaoke and improvisation. Arrangements were open enough that Green could call for impromptu solos or seize his own ad-libbed moments. The result was a looseness often lost in these kinds of shows.
As such, a medly that included off-the-cuff runs through the Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself” and The Temptations’ “My Girl” was a nice nod to the Motown sound’s impact on Green’s career.
Of course, it was over nearly as soon as it began. But it didn’t matter. By then we’d heard all the hits—“Let’s Stay Together,” “Love and Happiness” “I’m Still In Love With You”—as well as a handful of surprises, and there wasn’t much more to ask for.
But the message was clear: Al Green definitely still has it.