Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” – Luke 4:23-24.
Legendary soul singer Al Green was born in Arkansas, and he’s an ordained pastor at a Memphis church, but Grand Rapids, Michigan is his hometown. He grew up here from a young age, and he attended the same now-defunct high school as Gerald Ford.
But when Rev. Green returned to GR for the first time in over ten years, he mailed in his homecoming. After starting more than an hour and fifteen minutes late, Green played for not more than an hour and offered no encore, though after a brief, mostly flat performance, the disappointed audience’s request for an encore was pretty tepid.
Yes, Green still has his vocal range, if not a youthful stamina, and his twelve-piece band was fine. He sang “Let’s Stay Together,” and he did a disjointed medley of Motown snippets, but his brief set left the audience wanting a lot more. That may be an appropriate strategy for an up-and-coming act playing small clubs and building a following. It really isn’t an appropriate strategy for an established stars playing to a sold-out crowd, each of whom ended up paying more than a dollar a minute for Green to coast through his light performance.
While the, “It sure is great to be here in [fill in the blank city]!” is a throwaway line musicians use at every stop on a tour, it is a meaningful ritual because the audience really does love it, and because observing its execution can offer insight into the performer’s commitment to the individual performance. Whatever its value, Green didn’t make it easy to definitively answer the question, “does he know where he is?”, scattering his geographical shout-outs across the state. Although a tally of municipal mentions upon review of the concert transcript (those exist, right??) likely favored Grand Rapids, Green acknowledged Ann Arbor, Flint, Lansing, Muskegon, and other locales during his time on stage. The number of Michigan cities he named may have outpaced the number of songs he performed, which actually might sort of be a backhanded compliment to the Michigander audience in light of the state’s inferiority complex. Green sufficiently resolved whatever uncertainty existed in the fans’ minds when he sent us off with, “Good night Pontiac!”, though. Regardless of whether he knew where he was, he didn’t care, and that was illustrative of his approach to the night as a whole.