|Grand Rapids Welcomes Back Al Green|
by Jim and Jen Shaneberger
Reverend Al Green holds a special place in the heart of Grand Rapidians because for a few years in the mid-50’s and 60’s, we claimed him as our own.
This soulful R&B giant sold out the picturesque Frederik Meijer Gardens, and packed in a diverse crowd ranging in age from mid-thirties to sixties. Though rain early in the day gave ticket holders a scare, by showtime the 1900-seat amphitheater was a sea of lawn chairs and blankets.
With his start time scheduled for 8pm, the crowd began to get antsy at ten after. They clapped in unison in an effort to coax the band to the stage. As if to build anticipation, the majority of the band hung just barely out of sight by the side stage until they finally kicked off at 8:25pm.
The band played an intro as Green walked out in a tux with red bow tie and vest with dark sunglasses. He carried a bottle of champagne in one hand and a dozen red roses in the other. All together the group was impressive, totaling 15 members including Green, three back-up singers and two male dancers.
The instrumentation offered a full body of sounds including guitarist Dustin Barber, a percussionist and a drummer using a Taye kit, a bassist with a Marcus Miller signature model Fender Jazz Bass, a sax, a trombone and a trumpet, two keyboard players, one on a Hammond B3 and three back-up singers.
They opened up with "It Ain’t No Fun to Me", followed by "Let's Get Married". Here, Green tested his vocals with a long high note, the first of many, and you could almost hear the crowd think, ‘He’s still got it’. Next, he slowed it down with "Simply Beautiful".
Especially noticeable on the first three songs were the front of house sound issues; the bass was simply non-existent in the mix. Unfortunately sound issues continued throughout the night. Although the bass eventually made it into the mix, feedback issues continued, to the point where Green commented, “that hum costs extra, take it out.”
Green is a master in commanding both the band and the audience. This was demonstrated as he led the crowd in singing “Amazing Grace” together. On the second verse the back-up singers stepped forward and harmonized with Green. Afterward he said, "Somebody clap your hands for the Green sisters; these are my daughters up here."
On “Let's Stay Together” two male dancers took the stage to show the crowd how to move. When they broke it down, Dayve Stewart stepped forward for an impressive sax solo.
Green played all of his hits, including: “Here I Am”, “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart”, Tired of Being Alone”, “I’m Still in Love with You” and “Love and Happiness”. The only noticeable omission was “Take Me to the River”.
Green even incorporated a soul-drenched cover of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”, along with a short medley of R&B classics.
"I don't want to make it all about self,” he stated, “There's a lot of people who contributed to this genre, and it's a beautiful thing when we can reach back and say… sugar pie honey bunch.”, and the band launched into the Four Tops classic. He then transitioned through abbreviated versions of the Temptations’ “My Girl”, Sam Cooke’s “Bring It Home to Me” and Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay”.
Still, it was like he was in a hurry; the entire show felt rushed. For a $73 ticket price, a 90 minute set would have been more satisfying than the 60 minutes Green gave Grand Rapids. Alas, by 9:25 pm, we were heading for the exit, without even an encore to sate the crowd.
Jen Shaneburger is the co-owner of Industry Standard Entertainment and husband Jim is a member of the Greg Nagy Band. Photos by Paul Jendrasiak.
Published: June 19, 2012
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