Sleep Train Pavilion, Concord
September 19, 2008
Words and Photos by Tamara Palmer
Better Than: Listening to the Quiet Storm
Download: A behind the scenes video of the making of Al Green's new album
"Hey, Concord!" exclaimed the good Reverend Al Green, handing out roses to a crush of ladies that appeared on the lip of the stage from out of nowhere. The audience cheered.
"Anyone here from Oakland?" [bigger cheer]
"Anyone here from San Francisco?" [slightly less, but still healthy cheer]
"Anyone here from Berkeley?" [moderate cheer]
"I don't know the other cities around here," he smiled. "I looked at a map, but I can't remember any more names!"
Green released a new album called Lay It Down earlier this year, and performed faithful versions of the title track and "Stay With Me," challenging his band to "see if they can sound like the record," which they did (minus the latter's album inclusion of young soul stars John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae).
But people came to hear the hits, which Green happily dished up, but not before teasing the audience from time to time. He brought out the big guns like "Let's Stay Together" and "Tired of Being Alone" right away, but made us wait for others. He started to sing "Love and Happiness," then declared that we weren't ready for it yet. It was a good tactic, because everyone loved it when it eventually came back. The occasional gyrational appearance of two nubile young black male backing dancers who looked like twins nicely illustrated the timelessness of Green's sweet love songs, which still feel good today.
Green did let the audience sing a bit too much of his songs, but that's an expected convention at this sort of show. With Green's mentions of trying to sound like his albums, the easiest way to do so would have been to keep all those amateurs quiet.
Sorry, Concord—he can sing better than all of y'all put together.
We arrived to the resplendent sartorial sight of the Temptations Review, each member (including an original, Dennis Edwards) decked out in purple and silver sequins that glittered through their hits "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and "My Girl." Overheard just as they were finishing their set: "I never thought I'd see the day when Al Green was billed above the Temptations." Sure, but this was the Temptations Review; Edwards' old foe Otis Williams still operates another band called the Temptations, which is confusing at best. Everyone sang strong, but a few members seemed too young to be a convincing Temp.
As her six backup singers oddly sang a riff from "The Way We Were," Gladys Knight stormed the stage with her thousand-watt smile and sparkly silver top and immediately kicked the energy up. As a comfortable and relatable storyteller, she did her best to dissolve the wall between audience and performer as she described how her faith and hard work lead to her success. Her brother and original Pip Bubba Knight came out for a charming segment, channeling James Brown's energy and wail and cheekily talking about how he's "still Pippin'" and how "it's hard out here for a Pip."
Gladys bookended the Pip hits, from "Midnight Train to Georgia" to "Love Overboard," but the time was well populated with fun covers, like Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know Me By Now," Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much," Michael Jackson's "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" and Boyz II Men's "End of the Road," rendering the latter more powerful as a solo cut than that group could ever muster. She dedicated the show to the recent loss of one of her mentors, Norman Whitfield, performing the hit he penned for her and the Pips, "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." Overheard just as she was finishing her set: "Al Green be cool and all, but I came to see Gladys tear it down!"
In many respects and despite some worthy competition, it was her Knight.
Personal bias: A lack of singing talent has not prevented this writer from earnestly trying for the past 21 years to harmonize on "Love Overboard."
Random detail: It was a surprise that with such seasoned artists in concert, the only merchandise for sale was Green’s new album. Bubba Knight’s catchphrases alone would have made for some incredible T-shirt slogans.
However, an abundance of bootleg Obama apparel saved the day.
By the way: Green is still pastor at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, and his services are open to the public.