For more pictures from Sunday's show, see our slideshow here. In the middle of "Tired of Being Alone," one feverish mini-symphony of soul and salvation out of an even dozen Sunday night (counting an extended '60s medley), the Rev. Al Green asked out loud what his triumphant Arena Theatre performance had long since settled: "I wonder if Al's still got it?" If there were any lingering doubts among the hyperventilating crowd, Green chased them straight down the Southwest Freeway with a subsequent falsetto as pure and agonizing as the one that first appeared on 1971's Gets Next to You and has been filtering out of hi-fis, headphones and iPod earbuds ever since. With the voice and energy of a man at least 20 years younger than his actual 64 years, the good reverend absolutely nailed it to the wall. At this point, though, he had done so many times already, on the Stax sledgehammer of "I Can't Get Next to You" and a quivering "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" that poured out more pain than any one human being should ever be expected to bear. Most impressive was one single verse of the old spiritual "Nearer My God to Thee," where in just a few lines Green managed to one-up his three backup-singing daughters, who had just sent our eyeballs rolling backwards with their own jolting verse of "Amazing Grace."
Green has spoken many times, most recently in his 2009 autobiography Take Me to the River, of his ongoing struggle to reconcile the spiritual and secular sides of both his personality and his music. Those conflicts may remain in his personal life, but as a performer he has distilled the essence of both Saturday night and Sunday morning - the not-so-wide gulf between, as opening comedian Marcus J. Wiley put it, "the club and the church" - into a sound that exemplifies the steamy allure of human sexuality and the redemptive release of old-time religion. As we put it in a text message to a friend after the show, Sunday night felt like being baptized by James Brown or Otis Redding.
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Although opener "L-O-V-E" went by in a blur of Green handing out roses to the women up front - some of whom looked ready to fight for their flowers, and no doubt would have - and his small army of musicians getting situated onstage, it was clear by "Let's Get Married" that no one in the room was going to let up. Not Green, not the band, and certainly not the crowd, who needed little if any prompting from the headliner to turn the Arena into an mid-summer outdoor tent revival. By the time the band downshifted into the introduction to "I'm Still In Love With You," one of the only instances Sunday that gave the impression anyone onstage was taking a breather (an impression that lasted about 30 seconds), the temperature in the room had risen enough for Aftermath to sit down for a second and scribble "it's hot in here." Whether it was because the sheer amount of waving hands and shaking hips had finally overwhelmed the Arena's air-conditioning or there really was some kind of spirit moving amongst us we're not sure - but if we had to, we'd testify under oath it was both. "Somebody say 'Amen,'" Green requested after "I Can't Get Next to You." Even though it was only the third song, from where Aftermath was sitting they already had. Several times over. But because we're still feeling the spirit coming up on 18 hours after we left the Arena both stunned and grateful, we'll say it again one more time - Amen, reverend. And hallelujah.
Set List L-O-V-E Let's Get Married I Can't Get Next to You Stay With Me (By the Sea) Amazing Grace/Nearer My God to Thee Let's Stay Together How Can You Mend a Broken Heart Here I Am (Come and Take Me) I Can't Help Myself/My Girl/I've Been Loving You Too Long/Bring It All Home to Me/(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay Tired of Being Alone I'm Still In Love With You Love and Happiness