- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

As always, blurring the line between church and street, soul king the Reverend Al Green took to the stage Sunday night at the 9:30 Club sporting dark shades, a tuxedo jacket and a big golden cross. If the get-up was a little gaudy, the musical sermon was anything but: a taut and spirited one-hour trip down memory lane, where love, makeups and breakups briefly replaced the word of the Lord.

“I know we’re in a club, but we can still say amen,” he shouted out at one point, as the audience erupted in cheers. After all, Al Green, a singer-preacher who can turn the words rain and pain into 10 syllable vocal riffs, has a way of giving the mundane a spiritual lift, of crooning in his trademark falsetto that you can indeed say amen to earthly happiness.

From “I Can’t Stop,” the title track from his 2003 album, through classics like “Here I Am” and “So Tired of Being Alone,” that message was all about the redemptive power of love. It would have become repetitive were it not for the variety of tempos and arrangements, the sharp and disciplined horn attacks and the floating Hammond organ grooves.

With a large backing cast, including two keyboardists, two drummers and a vocal trio, he paced effortlessly between sultry ballads and raucous soul-funk anthems. He flashed a big toothy smile and threw roses into the crowd. He embraced his repertoire with boyish glee as if, after 25 years devoted primarily to gospel, he finally could get down again.

Two male dancers engaging in poorly choreographed aerobic exercises were a distraction, and at times the sheer volume of the band seemed to overpower, or at least upstage, the singer. Most odd, though, was the absent black audience. A star who made black gospel profane (without profanity) and helped define classic Memphis soul played mostly to a white baby-boomer crowd.

That notwithstanding, in an age when the icons of the past are relegated to golden oldies tours or state fairs, it’s inspiring to see the reverend re-enter the limelight with so much vitality. Not resting on laurels (two new albums in the past three years), he delivered on Sunday something quite the opposite of hackneyed — a display of unvarnished happiness. Happy to be alive. Happy with his God-given talent. Happy to be playing clubs again.

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