The Rev. Al Green took the stage in Central Park resplendent in a white-on-white ensemble, and although he gave copious thanks to the Man Upstairs, he chose to concentrate almost exclusively on his secular material. The gospel offerings — “Amazing Grace” and a rousing rendition of “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” — were clear-cut showstoppers, long on perspiration and inspiration.
Ever the showman, Green traipsed the stage lip nimbly throughout the set, even distributing dozens of long-stemmed red roses to enchanted fans during an opening salvo of “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” and “L-O-V-E (Love).” The latter song afforded the singer an opportunity to showcase his undiminished upper register — which took on added resonance when he shushed the backing band for a soaring a capella verse.
Midway through the hourlong set, Green made his way through a medley that was full of surprises — for both the audience and band members, who needed to think fast when the singer tossed some change-ups into the program, including bittersweet takes on “For the Good Times” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.”
Green is well aware that his audience is there for the classics, though, and he didn’t disappoint, rounding out the evening with rapturous versions of “Take Me to the River” and “Love and Happiness” that confirmed no one knows the art of love like Rev. Al.
Folk-blues legend Odetta, who preceded Green, delivered a short, spirited set that presented a handful of her best-known performances — highlighted by the sway-along opener, “This Little Light of Mine.”
Just as interesting as the songs themselves, however, were the personable singer’s lengthy reminiscences, which touched on both musical memories and troubling tales of rural poverty.