15 Feb 2004: Tower Theater Upper Darby, PA
Long before R. Kelly, Ma$e, and even Marvin Gaye were struggling to walk the razor thin line that separates the sacred and the secular, Al Green was publicly struggling against his lower self. Despite a strict Christian upbringing that forbade such worldly preoccupations, Green reached the height of music stardom by making a string of legendary R&B hits. While songs like “Tired of Being Alone” and “Call Me” never reached the carnal depths of Kelly or Gaye, they nonetheless reflected the distance between Green and his religious roots. After several life-altering experiences—especially the infamous Mary Woodson/hot grits incident—Green decided to attend to his divine vocation. By 1979, Green had completely abandoned the secular music world, focusing instead on building his ministry and singing gospel music.
With the exception of his disappointing 1995 comeback album, Your Heart’s In Good Hands, Al has remained true to his word, spreading the good news through his self-produced gospel records and his pastorate at the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis, Tennessee. While most fans respected Green’s decision to forsake the trappings of secular prosperity in pursuit of a higher calling, his departure left a huge musical void for a generation of folk who grew up with his music. Thankfully, the old king has returned to his throne with the release of an outstanding new album, I Can’t Stop. In addition to the album, Green has set out on a new tour with Cassandra Wilson that made a stop through the cozy Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA on February 15, 2004.
Dressed in a mink coat, all-White suit, and enough religious bling-bling to make P. Diddy stop and stare, Reverend Al delivered an amazing seven-song set that marked his spectacular homecoming. Although Green’s current tour is largely designed to promote the new album, he only sang the title track from I Can’t Stop. The remainder of the show was spent taking the audience down memory lane with gems like “For The Good Times”, “Here I Am”, and “Let’s Get Married”. Soulful as ever, Green transported the Tower crowd back to 1972 with a timeless rendition of “Let’s Stay Together”. At the end of the song, an eager fan rushed to the foot of the stage and attempted to hand Green a very personal article of clothing. Reverend Al, of course, graciously declined the offer. Just another day in the life of the self-described “R&B Preacher.”
Despite the show’s secular focus, the highlight of the night was Green’s stunning rendition of “Amazing Grace”. By the song’s end, which also featured a few bars of “Nearer To Thee”, Green’s passionate vocals and old school testifyin’ had moved most of the crowd to tears. Then, with all the style and ease of a summer revivalist, Green picked their spirits back up with the help of his band and two smooth new-school dancers. Of course, no Al Green show would be complete without his song of songs, “Love and Happiness”. The song was a fitting end to a solid one hour set in which Reverend Al Green fed our souls and softened our hearts. Amen.
// Notes from the Road
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