Time flies when you're listening to Al Green

Al Green performing in New Orleans earlier this year. Al Green performing in New Orleans earlier this year. (Dave Martin/ Associated Press)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / November 24, 2008
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FOXBOROUGH - Such a gentleman, that Al Green. No one brought him flowers at Showcase Live Friday night, but he passed out long-stem red roses (dethorned, of course) to the ladies in the sold-out house.

It was a sweet gesture, and, obviously, it was a scripted part of Green's usual show, as was the set list he's been doing verbatim for a while now. With a cursory Google search, you know exactly what you're going to get at an Al Green show - and you couldn't ask for a better time (well, a few more songs, and an encore, would be nice).

Early on Green made sure the show didn't seem like just another stop on the road. "You guys are driving me out of here," he playfully chided his bandmates when they got too loud. "It's just a small lounge. It's not the Coliseum."

Green has always been about creating the right mood, as both the R&B ladies man from the '70s and the ordained pastor who now pounds the pulpit at his church in Memphis. It's astonishing how casually Green intermingles the secular with the sacred, from "Amazing Grace" to "Let's Stay Together."

And the good reverend still knows how to have a good time. "Somebody order a drink back there," he called out, "and send me one."

After opening with "I Can't Stop" and "Let's Get Married," he played two songs from his latest album, "Lay It Down," including the simmering title track, originally a duet with Anthony Hamilton. From there, it was an easy move into "Amazing Grace," igniting a singalong Green could have led in a nightclub or a sanctuary.

Surely one of the most memorable concert moments of the year was watching Green jump up and down in a suit with a rose in his hand while the audience sang the chorus of "Let's Stay Together." Providing a bookend to that classic, Green dug into a heart-rending rendition of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?"

His band, featuring Berklee grad Stacey Wade on keyboards, had complete respect for Green's signature '70s soul sound, right down to the three-member section that made a huge difference on "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)."

Green lost his way just a bit with a start-and-stop medley of '60s hits - "My Girl," "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" - that would have worked if performed in full. But he made up for it with an extended, spirited closer: "Love and Happiness."

Suddenly, the gospel according to Al was over, right at the 75-minute mark, and you could easily overhear the crowd's wish lists: "Simply Beautiful," "For the Good Times." Then again, an hour with Al Green on a Friday night is like spending a day with most performers.

With just an electric guitar, Boston's own Jesse Dee had the formidable task of opening with a set of blue-eyed soul indebted to the smooth operator who took the stage right after him.


With Jesse Dee

At: Showcase Live, Friday

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