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Al Green Takes L.A. Crowd to Church With Motown, Gospel Hits

September 22, 2008 1:50 PM ET

Saturday night at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, Al Green took a capacity crowd to church 12 hours earlier than usual. "God gave me the ministry of love and happiness," the veteran Memphis soul man announced before launching into another of his velvet-brimstone sermons. The grown-and-sexy audience came prepared to worship; one woman sang along at top volume for his entire 90-minute set.

Fronting a 12-piece band that included a back-up vocalist doubling as what might be best described as an interpretive-calypso dancer, Green complemented well-worn hits from throughout his deep discography with gospel material and covers of old soul and Motown gems, as well as a pair of tunes from this year's terrific Lay It Down, on which Green teams up with a neo-soul dream team headed by ?uestlove of the Roots.

He introduced the album's title track by issuing a challenge: "I wanna see if the band can play it like it sound on the record," he said. It didn't quite, thanks to a stage-slackened groove and an unfortunate overdose of Miami Vice sax. But Green made up for what he lacked in studio-side precision with his infectious enthusiasm and his still-sparkling vocals, which transformed from guttural growl into weightless falsetto with no discernible effort.

"There some people here wondering if the Reverend still got it," Green acknowledged at one point. The Reverend's response, delivered in the form of "I'm Still in Love with You," left no doubt that he most certainly does.

Set List:
"I Can't Stop"
"Let's Get Married"
"Lay It Down"
"Stay with Me (By the Sea)"
"Everything's Gonna Be Alright"
"Amazing Grace"/"Nearer, My God, to Thee"
"Let's Stay Together"
"How Can You Mend a Broken Heart"
"Here I Am (Come and Take Me)"
"I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)"/"My Girl"/"Bring It on Home to Me"/"Wonderful World"/"You Are Everything"
"Tired of Being Alone"
"I'm Still in Love with You"
"Simply Beautiful"
"Love and Happiness"

Related Stories:
Q&A: Al Green's Soul Revival
In the Studio: Al Green
The Immortals: Al Green By Justin Timberlake

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Song Stories

“Whoomp! (There It Is)”

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Cecil Glenn — a.k.a., "D.C." — was a cook at Magic City, a nude dance club in Atlanta, when he first heard women shout "Whoomp — there it is!" Inspired by the party chant, he and partner Steve "Roll'n" Gibson wrote a song around it. Undaunted by label rejections, they borrowed $2,500 from Glenn's parents and pressed 800 singles, which quickly sold out in the Atlanta area. A record deal came soon after. Glenn said the song was meant for positive partying. "If you're going to say 'Whoomp there it is,' and you're doing something negative, we'd rather it not have come out of your mouth."

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