My entire life had been leading up to this night. Every song I listened to on my transistor radio hidden under my pillow when I was supposed to be sleeping. Every record I played while alone in the basement. Every concert I sat through. Every conversation I had about the merits of one performer over another. Every song I learned so I could make it my own and share it with others.
Last night I prayed in the church of the Reverend Al Green.
I don’t know why I waited so long to see him live. I’ve been listening to Al Green for as long as I can remember. I’ve told anyone who would listen that his voice is pure sex.
And in a sold-out Beacon Theater, the Reverend was the Al Green I know and love from his records.
Opening act was Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires. I had seen Bradley a few years ago at a bar in Red Hook where rtb took me to see him do his Black Velvet act (James Brown impersonator) and I was impressed with him then. If you follow who’s playing the festival circuit, you’ll see that Bradley has been very busy this summer. He’s now performing original material with Daptone musicians (horn, sax, keys, bass, drums, guitar) and he released an album last year on the Daptone label.
(I wish I could get better photos but the spotlight on the headliner makes him a ghostly white on the camera phone.)
Like all good funk/soul acts the band plays first and then Bradley makes his entrance. He was wearing a black sequined jacket over a black silk shirt with satin tuxedo lapels so that his chest was bared. Bradley has all the moves – taking off the jacket, dancing and grinding, James Brown moves and kneeling on the floor, throwing the mic stand out and pulling it back quickly with the mic cord.
Bradley used to tour with The Menahan Street Band and Budos Band, so I’m sure that The Extraordinaires are made up of those studio musicians. And they are, of course, brilliant. Funky enough to make you think it’s the 1970s and soulful enough to make you cry.
Bradley’s dancing and gyrating and screaming and singing had the audience yelling and clapping. Although many were unfamiliar with him (the woman next to me asked me for his name and then Googled him) by the end of his set he had completely won over the crowd.
When I went into the Beacon I was told to go to Aisle 1. From habit I started towards the balcony stairs and then I looked at my ticket. Orchestra. Sometimes I surprise myself with little gifts and since my memory sucks it remains a surprise.
I haven’t had a seat this good at the Beacon in 20 years.
First the stage fills up the band – organ, percussion, bass, guitar, horn, trombone, sax, keyboards, and three female back-up singers and one male back-up singer. Later Green would bring the women front and center for “Amazing Grace” and introduce them as his daughters. The male singer would return for a few songs with another guy and the two of them danced on either side of the Reverend.
Besides all the musicians on stage there is also a case of Gatorade and tons of roses. Throughout the concert, Green hands out roses to the women in the audience. He wanted to come down into the crowd but there are no steps so the women bumrushed the stage trying to get a rose.
Al Green wore a black suit with a purple tie and purple vest. There was the screaming when he took off the jacket. He sang the high notes and the women melted and screamed. He did let us sing a lot of the lyrics – I’m not sure if he was saving up his energy for those high notes or if he was just letting us enjoy ourselves.
The band was amazing and was given an opportunity to shine several times. The organist was way in the back and you wouldn’t have noticed him if it wasn’t for the lights on the brim of his hat.
We heard all the hits and he also did a medley of songs from the 1960s that had influenced his gospel and soul style. “Let’s Stay Together” had a very soft intro where he held us and stroked our hair and then he rocked our world and he went back to those opening chords to cuddle as we enjoyed the afterglow. There was no encore. The Reverend had given us his all and we had given it all back to him and he took our love with him and left so he could give it to another audience.
By Carene Lydia Lopez