From river to mountain today, it has been a Sunday of road trips. As far as musical entertainment for the evening went, I had a choice of 70s (Reverend Al Green at Charlottesville Pavilion) or 80s (Tears for Fears at the National) and the road trip took it.
Since I'd seen TfF in 1994 at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk (backstage pass even so, yes, I have a picture of Roland and me), the Reverend Al Green won out. Besides, at 64, I don't know how much longer Al intends to tour and I did want to hear that voice live. As the man himself asked rhetorically at the show, "Does he still have it?"
Arriving on the mall in Charlottesville, it was mobbed. Part beautiful non-humid weather, part eager concert going fans, both the places I'd been recommended for a quick bite were closed, as were many others. And every open restaurant was mobbed.
With a will call ticket still to be picked up and doors opening at 6 for general admission seats, I went the old-school route out of necessity.
The Nook has been in C-ville since 1951; that's five years fewer than the Reverend has been on the planet. The outside seating was completely taken, so I went in and shared the mostly empty bar with one couple drinking Coronas and waiting for the doors to open, too.
They were amazed at how busy the mall was; despite both working at nearby UVA, neither had ever been to the mall. They live in Buckingham County and apparently that's where they hang.
I ordered the lemon and dill chicken salad, figuring it was already made, so how long could it take? Given the stressed out bartender who soon disappeared into the basement, the perpetually in-the-way assistant manager who was clearly no help to anyone and the crazed looks on the staff's faces (one warned another that the cook "had his hat on backwards which always means he's in a bad mood"), it took quite awhile.
When it finally did come, I paid, gulped it down (it did have a nice non-traditional flavor I will say) and high-tailed it out of there. The general admission (read: cheap) seats entitled the buyer to a seat in the upper orchestra (behind the $90 box seats) or lawn seats.
I was not about to sit on the lawn. Nor did I have to, scoring a front row seat - front row in the cheap seats, but still a terrific view and dead center so Al was in my direct line of sight. He started with shoutouts to Richmond (twice), Hampton, Roanoke and Virginia Beach and said it was his first time coming here. "Thank you for inviting us," he said to great applause.
Besides the usual, he had a horn section, two male dancers, two drummers and his three daughters provided back-up vocals. He dove right in, quickly getting to "Let's Stay Together," causing a dance party in the aisles. A few songs in he said, "This boy's singing his pants off," pulling up his trousers as he said it.
He did quite few covers, some in full like Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" and the BeeGees' "How do you mend a broken heart," a song in which he left out a section, saying, "I forgot that part, so I have to go back and get it" and indeed picked up from the la-las with the crowd right behind him.
He talked about the music "we" were raised on being different than today's and launched into short versions of 3 or 4 Motown hits, causing a massive singalong. The Stylistics' "You are Everything (and everything is you)" seemed to get the biggest reaction, probably because it isn't covered nearly as much as "My Girl."
After multiple fans called out for it, there was a long buildup/tease to "Tired of Being Alone" and when he finally sang it, he didn't miss a note. In fact, his voice was in perfect form the entire performance. When he said, "Let's go back to 1976," it was as if his voice had not changed since then.
"I'm Still in Love with You" got a lot of the couples in the audience dancing and singing to each other and there were a lot of couples in the audience. This was clearly date night for a lot of people, but even the very single among us could appreciate the lyrics to classics like those.
My only regret was that he did nothing off his 2003 album "I Can't Stop," a personal favorite that found him reunited with his former producer Willie Mitchell and proving that Al still had it thirty years later. It was also his first completely secular album since the 70s (Essential tracks: I Can't Stop, You, Not Tonight, Million to One). That's a CD I was given back in 2003 and still listen to with great pleasure.
But that's not a complaint, just an observation. Anyone who's been making music since 1967 is going to have to omit somebody's favorite songs. It was good enough to hear the man sing, watch his still-smooth dance moves and take in his love for the audience.
I left with no doubt that he appreciates his fans just as much as they appreciate him. The Reverend himself said it best: "We gonna make it do what it do."