I bounced home from the tennis last night all primed to post about my very first experience court-side, then received some distressing news from a friend that just completely flattened me. Today’s grey skies and rain, replacing yesterday’s storming heat, now seem entirely appropriate – it’s all a bit bleak, really. But in an effort to try to drag some cheer back into proceedings, I’ll tell you about the Al Green concert on Tuesday night.
It’s a funny thing about “living legends” – all they really have to do is turn up. Apparently the audience is just so incredibly delighted to catch an “iconic performer” before they pop their clogs that they don’t really care whether the show goes on or not. There he is! He’s alive! And I’ve seen him! I might’ve missed Elvis, and I really should’ve gotten along to the Rolling Stones last time they were in town, but gee whiz, at least I caught the Reverend Al Green before the Good Lord sells out his final gig! That’s a relief! You should have seen the audience – blissed out beyond belief as though we were indeed at an evangelical sermon in Memphis and not the Sydney State Theatre at all.
It was all a bit curious. We started well, Green nothing if not an old school showman who knows how to make an entrance – and he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his healing hand – but soon I at least felt the show devolved into a strange farce of fawning adulation from the women in the audience, who came in all directions mincing, dancing, swooning and even puckering, gathering in a heap at the foot of the stage like a spectacular pile up at the base of a hill, and a kind of wind-up toy, fits-and-starts display from Green. In truth he gave out more roses than notes, hardly really singing at all, seeming to prefer turning the mike to the audience – yeah, c’mon, you know the words! – or introducing band members, or gesturing to the back-up singers, his three daughters and a man who bore an uncanny resemblance to Snoop Dogg, to do the work instead. He would regularly take a big breath and lean into the mike, and I would hold mine and sit forward in my chair, waiting and listening for a voice that mostly never came. I lost count of the number of occasions he opened his mouth and nothing actually came out. Instead he’d cover the conspicuous absence of singing by busting another move and yet again shimmying across to retrieve still more roses from a Magic Pudding-style secret rose compartment, hidden somewhere behind the keyboardist, and the crowd would go wild. At one point in the endless dispensing of these long-stemmed red crowd-pleasers, Al left the stage and didn’t even bother to take the microphone at all. No need, you see.
I think it was when he began the extensive tribute medley that I decided the evening was really odd. Leaving aside that Snoop Dogg regularly left his singing post to quick-change and join another man on stage as back-up dancers now, darting and turning behind Al in a routine pulled wholesale from those manic flashing squares in video arcades, there was something depressing about the tribute medley, a few bars apiece of R & B chart-toppers not his own. No one else seemed to notice or care, and I bet I am one of only a few people who’d do anything other than rave about the show. But for me it just seemed to ring with false notes, as when Al exhorted the audience not to worry about the financial downturn or rising petrol prices. He’d been sent, he said, by the One who will reward true believers, and he’d been sent to tell those people they will… they will…. well, they will somehow find a way to afford it. Wow. Thanks, Al. No, really. Thanks a heap. But at $115 bucks for the cheapest seats in the house, it looks like he at least has found the answer. You know, I’m sure Al can fill ‘er up whenever he likes, and he didn’t hesitate to burn off the stage after a very brief 45 minutes of legend maintenance, ignoring the crowd’s stomping feet, clapping hands and throaty cries for more. My favourite part of the evening? By a long mile, the support act, a toe-tapping, smooth-sounding soulful Sydney trio by the name of the Ray Mann Three. They were excellent.