After the Mercury's mind-bending interview with Al Green last week, it was clear that all ticket holders were in for something spectacular. Not just due to the fact that this is MOTHERFUCKING AL GREEN we're talking about, but also because, as the interview revealed, AL Green is aware that he is MOTHERFUCKING AL GREEN and seems intent upon living up to all his reputation entails—up to and beyond the point of exaggeration.
His Portland performance was very much along these lines. As the light drained from the sky on a late summer Friday night, Edgefield filled with a rather diverse clientele: older folks came out in abundance to gaze upon the soul sensation of their younger years, sometimes with children/grandchildren in tow, and a fair amount of 20-somethings milled about as well, many with significant others clenched at their midsections, prepared for the sensuality of Al's music to inspire possibly unforeseen levels of orgiastic pleasure.
The Reverend's set began with fanfare from his large band and an introduction from one of the three female backup singers, clad in red. He took the stage in sunglasses and a full tuxedo, accented with a maroon vest, and immediately began to distribute a large bunch of roses to the ladies in the crowd. He continued to pass out roses throughout the set, seemingly whenever he perceived a slight lull in the action Al knew he could pep things up simply by throwing out more flowers. He also launched into his trademark wail—"Aiiieeeeeeee-ie!"—whenever he sensed a dull moment, and it's effect was immediate, drawing squeals and hollers of approval.
After starting out with some newer, less well-known numbers (including his duet with John Legend, "Stay"), Al segued into a long string of classics, starting with "Let's Stay Together," "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?," "Here I Am," "Tired of Being Alone," all the way down to "Love and Happiness." As he strutted about the stage Al let us in on many more thoughts running through his crazy mind, such as when he informed the crowd that the backup singers were all his daughters, and went on to discuss how "there's nothing wrong with keeping money in the family." Further antics included tearing off his suit jacket in moments of passion, falling to the floor and waving his feet in the air during a song with a chorus of "Lay You Down." He also took time to speak of America and the Lord, at one point leading a chorus of "AMEN! AMEN!" that—as my friend pointed out—ending up sounding more like "GAY MEN! GAY MEN!"
Towards the end of the evening, the banter and antics ceased to really matter, and the sea of people at Edgefield could be observed in various states of ecstasy—some dancing, alone or in embrace, while others swaying blissfully while seated. In those moments it seemed that though many artists past their prime are relegated to the graveyard of classic radio, or vinyl collections, others are still tearing it up on stage. Granted, this is not always for better (Billy Joel, anyone?) and clearly no modern day show could live up to seeing a legend in their original run. Yet some performances have merit in bringing back to life—just for one night—the music that is known and loved by fans the world over. Tonight, Al Green was one of these.
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