The crowd in Shea's went to church Friday night as the Rev. Al Green and Shirley Caesar ran roughshod over the etiquette of stage performance and turned their appearance here into a revival meeting.
No one in the audience seemed disappointed by this. In fact, the enthusiasm and positive attitude of Green and Caesar almost made up for the delays and sound system gaffes that plagued Caesar's opening act. To top things off, the show began about 45 minutes late and Green, the main attraction, didn't even get on stage until 10:27 p.m.
Gospel sing-alongs were encouraged before both performers took stage, and while they certainly set the tone for the evening they also were the cue for an evening that sort of stumbled into the arena of entertainment when it wasn't groping to bring a divine moment into the hearts of the faithful fans. Green, who is pastor of a church in Memphis, Tenn., proudly shunned the secular music world that brought his fame and fortune for the opportunity to use his talent to spread his Christian message. He brings to bear one of the most unique voices ever recorded, with a range that can stretch from sweet soprano to a lucid, rapturous base.
Even after about 20 years in the business and many ups and downs, he still possesses a voice that stands out and makes him worth seeing even if gospel is far from your cup of tea. His approach to sacred music is not constrained by the basic rhythms of traditional gospel, and Friday night he sporadically gave up the microphone to stroll the aisles, preach, touch hands and feel the spirit of the audience.
While Green turned toward the secular, singing "Let' Stay Together," his big hit, toward the end of the show, Caesar stayed with traditional gospel throughout. This was not your average night at the theater. For those not used to the joyous rumblings that can thump through a black Christian church on Sunday, the night might have been disappointing.
It's clear that the reverend is more wrapped up now in his spiritual mission than in the trappings of stardom. For Green, the music is the message, poured directly from his insides. For popular music fans its still a wonder to behold live.
Al Green with Shirley Caesar
Gospel singers depart from the conventional.
Friday night at Shea's Buffalo Theater.