- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

Al Green took the stage Friday night at DAR Constitution Hall appropriately decked out in a brown fur coat, gold chains and white tuxedo.

He was snapping gum and smiling brightly, doling out roses and hugs to the orchestra rows. “I’m from Memphis; we hug a lot down there,” he said, his cheek smeared with lipstick at one point.

When the ladies started lining up 10-deep down the center row, Mr. Green had to go metaphorical: “I’m talkin’ about gospel hugs,” he specified.

It was Valentine’s Day eve, and a very dapper sold-out crowd of mostly black professionals was in the mood for romance, as interpreted by the giant of sweet soul music. (Co-headliner and big-voiced fireplug Stephanie Mills primed the pump with old hits such as “Never Knew Love Like This Before” and “Home.”)

With the recently released “I Can’t Stop,” the saintly reverend has gone worldly again — but Al Green still has one foot behind the pulpit. In a 75-minute set that ended promptly at midnight, Mr. Green shuffled “Let’s Stay Together” and “Tired of Being Alone” with snippets of “Amazing Grace” and a long rumination on the return of Christ, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”

“Some people are wonderin’, ‘Does the reverend still got it?’”

Yup, he’s still got it.

Mr. Green is a pretty conservative vocalist now; he let his large band detour into instrumental jaunts (the lead guitarist was quite the showoff); a trio of backup singers kept busy, too, while he slugged assorted bottles of Gatorade — lemon-lime, fruit punch and orange flavors — lined up for soul rehydration.

Still, when the reverend let loose with an extended falsetto or a deep growl, the Voice was all there.

He frequently teed up the vocal acrobatics by shushing his band; “bring it down a little,” he’d insist, sometimes petulantly, until it was quiet enough for him to step back and keen, congregation-style, without aid of a microphone.

On his great cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” Mr. Green stretched a la-la-la section into such soulful elasticity that the band hung grindingly on each syllable.

Though he has devoted his life to his Memphis church, Al Green still has a playful sexuality to his stage persona. There was subtle crotch-grabbing when, in the aftermath of a particularly inspired vocal turn, he would double over in mock pain, as if to say, “That sounded so good, it hurts.”

The periodic appearance of a pair of young dancers was an odd distraction. Their MO was to stand in Nation-of-Islam motionlessness and then break into street dancing.

C’mon, now. Al Green is in the house. One needs no further inducements.

Mr. Green reminded us he was still a going concern when he played the title track from his new album — his first for Blue Note Records but the latest of many with producer Willie Mitchell, with whom he reunited last year.

On “I Can’t Stop,” Al Green is very much in a 1973 frame of mind. On Friday, he was stuck there, happily. He sprang the Stylistics’ “You Are Everything” on his unsuspecting band. “They don’t know it, but I know it.”

Mr. Green even briefly confused what century we’re in: “It’s 19 …” he said, then caught himself “… 2004.”

Who cares what decade it is? Like his God, to whom a thousand years is a day, Al Green is timeless.

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