Al Green Makes Carnegie Hall His Love Church

"Just make sure this gets back to row F, seat fifteen, okay? Thanks." Photo: Ryan Muir

We didn’t quite catch what came before it — the man’s a soul legend, not a trained public speaker — but Al Green wrapped up one of his asides to a packed Carnegie Hall audience Friday night with a reference to someone who once, apparently, “literally sang his pants off.” The reverend’s pants, shame on you for wondering, remained on, but he hit those high notes — you know the ones — like he had his mind trained on zapping off some other britches in the vicinity. From his anecdote he went into “I’m Still in Love You,” proclaimed “that feels good!,” and set grown women giggling.

Opener Diane Reeves started off the night, part of the JVC Jazz Fest, with a warm, wonderfully nuanced set punctuated by well-told stories (one involved recently running into a high-school crush — who was with his partner, Bill. But at least, Reeves said, he “recognized me from behind”). By comparison Green ran a bit hot, queuing up his hits, unfurling those falsetto ribbons, and letting the audience fill in choruses and other gaps while he peacocked: dropping to his knees, throwing off his suit jacket, stomping his feet, wrapping his arms around his chest, lavishing the front rows with single red roses — even gracefully shooting one up to the first balcony, where it was caught, just barely, in an equally graceful turn. It was a terrific show — not exactly an intimate wooing. How could it be, with everyone already lost in the man? And the journeyman of l-o-v-e knew it: “Y’all are sending too much love up here!” he exclaimed. Happily, of course. Al Green gladdened hearts, wasn’t breaking them — but we can’t help but wonder how he would have mended one, were he called upon to do it. —Nick Catucci