Jesus Christ Superstar
“It’s you I want, but it’s Him I need,” Reverend Al Green is quoted as saying on his official Web site: www.algreen.com. The singer was born again in the mid ’70s, a short while after an ex-girlfriend broke into his apartment, discovered him in his bathtub, baptized him with a pot of boiling hot grits, then shot and killed herself. What exactly he was reborn as isn’t so clear.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m moanin’,” offered Green last Wednesday at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield. “And I feel like moanin’ tonight. Because I know when I’m moanin’ the devil don’t know what I’m talkin’ about.” And moan he did, juxtaposing the sweet, sensual wail of his ’70s hits with a low gospel snarl learned during his last 24 years as pastor of Memphis’s Full Gospel Tabernacle Church. Outfitted in a snow-white tuxedo, tossing red roses from the stage, and asking the audience to “Clap for Jesus,” he performed an hour of soul classics in the voice of a Southern ladies’ man who also happens to be preacherman.
Green’s performance gave evidence that he’s seamlessly conflated the sins of sex and the mysteries of salvation. His set left you unsure what exactly his ’70s songs were trying to get you in the mood for in the first place; the always subtle sexuality of his greatest hits allowed them to be effortlessly recast as paeans to lust and Christ: “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)”; “Tired of Being Alone”; “L-O-V-E (Love).” (Was “Call Me [Come Back Home]” too obvious a choice?) It’s no wonder the 12-piece band couldn’t keep up at times, especially during a loose, improvised medley midset, during which the reverend taunted a band member. “He wants to sing what’s on the sheet. I wanna sing what’s in my mind.”
“Aaggh-aaghaha-ha-ha-ha,” Green growled during a particularly fierce Yamaha solo by keyboardist Bobby Summers. Can anyone follow what Al Green’s talking about?
The devil could not be reached for comment. —Alec Hanley Bemis
Revelers wishing for an iota of mercy from the sun gods during 90-degree weather at last Saturday’s 6th Element outdoor festival never got any respite, but Mixmaster Morris had a chuckle anyway, starting his set with Roy Ayers’s “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” The scant few who obeyed Morris’s mantra (“Lie down and be counted”) were in the “chill” arena to hear his sleepy horns and daytime lullabies—the sweetest music of an event heavy on manufactured bliss and musclehead beats. The mainstage stuck to the mainstream with Donald Glaude, Sandra Collins, Bassbin Twins, and headliners Rabbit in the Moon. Other fans feasted on Organic Grooves, who rode their rhythms like a California surfer dude. “Where’s the justice?” grumbled one onlooker when a dapper Perry Farrell drew a larger crowd than Morris. But few seemed to care that Farrell couldn’t mix his way out of a paper bag, because he played a divine collection of dreamy tech house, and, because, well, he’s Perry Farrell.
6th Element wasn’t without its problems. Many mainstage DJs were sent to the doghouse on the far right of stage, leaving people with two choices: watch the DJ and hear nothing, or hear the DJ and see nothing. And the house and drum’n’bass tents were positioned uncomfortably close together, so Honey Dijon’s house beats bled into Trace’s gloomy basslines.
At 10, headliners Rabbit in the Moon’s melodramatic entrance was simply silly, their “dancer” Bunny hopping around and beating his chest to brain-dead breaks. But if RITM were grappling for every space-age metaphor they could muster, then New Jersey garage DJ Tony Humphries brought things down to earth. Though vocal house runs rampant with empty lyrics, Humphries avoided the usual diva histrionics. By overlapping vocal lines, he conducted a call-and-response soul session, and made his records sing to each other. —Tricia Romano
The words rock and opera tend to strike terror in many a listener’s heart, and for good reason. Only the most die-hard Pete Townshend fan would rather listen to the Lifehouse outtakes than play a dog-eared copy of Who’s Next, and only the most loyal BAM subscriber would really prefer Lou Reed’s Time Rocker to “Sweet Jane.” Still, the news of Elvis Costello’s participation in an opera was not necessarily a cause for panic. His voice has endured the Bacharach treatment, and even sounded plausibly Weill-ian backed by the Brodsky quartet.
Welcome to the Voice, not a Costello composition, was cowritten by Manuel Todori and Steve Nieve, the keyboard player for the Attractions. Even if Nieve never shared a composer credit on a Costello record, his rococo trills provided the most distinctive touch to the band’s arrangements. The Royal Academy-trained Nieve always sounded like a frustrated classical kid playing rock and roll; his opera reveals he’s simply a frustrated classical kid.
Costello plays Drunkman—a role he hasn’t played in real life in years—who loiters in front of an opera house, becomes transfixed with three sublime opera divas, and is nearly carted away by a belligerent police chief (John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants). As the three statuesque divas serenade Costello surrounded by flashes of dry ice, the production looks less like Don Giovanni than an Ally McBeal dream sequence. (Some interpretive dance by a guy named Yarmo fails to boost audience morale.) “I’m a slave to the voice,” Costello warbles. Costello’s voice has similarly enslaving powers, but this night at the opera would have been redeemed if he’d just given us an encore of “Accidents Will Happen.” —David Yaffe
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 13, 2000