AL GREEN: TOKYO... LIVE! (1981)
1) L-O-V-E (Love); 2) Tired Of Being Alone; 3) Let's Stay Together; 4) How Can You Mend A Broken Heart; 5) All'N'All; 6) Belle; 7) Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy); 8) Let's Get Married; 9) God Blessed Our Love; 10) You Ought To Be With Me; 11) For The Good Times; 12) Dream; 13) I Feel Good; 14) Love And Happiness.
This live album came out somewhat belatedly, but early enough to be considered a 'proper' rather than 'archival' release; Al himself is heard mentioning, during his stage banter, that they are recording the show for a live album. And here is the live album itself: most certainly, a God-sent gift for the fans who'd already given up hoping for any more secular material from the man.
The Al Green live show generally boasted a high reputation, but I am not so sure that their magic is properly captured here. It's a long, two-LP set, honestly hitting on huge radio hits as well as some rarities, well-recorded and quite "authentic", but Green's power to seduce and enchant, as far as I'm concerned, manifests itself much stronger and much quicker on studio records. For one thing, it's not just the voice that matters: an essential part of Green's success are the musical flourishes and inventive arranging details, and most, if not all, of them, get seriously flattened out in the context of this live performance.
Worse, the emphasis is way too heavy on getting the people up on their feet — some of the golden oldies are rearranged as fiery disco workouts, which is just w-r-o-n-g. It's one thing to wind up the happy Japs with a genuine recent disco smash like 'I Feel Good', but an entirely different one to follow it up with a dance reworking of 'Love And Happiness', a song that's unimaginable without its unhurried mid-tempo. Likewise, the hurried delivery and extended jamming turn 'Let's Get Married' into something totally unconnected with the original message of the song. It's not necessarily bad, but it's certainly not "Al Green-specific".
On the other hand, the rare occasions where Al does stick to his guns don't add anything new to what we already know: 'L-O-V-E', 'How Can You Mend A Broken Heart' (seriously shortened), 'Belle' and others go off smoothly and predictably. Accompanied with visuals, they might work better, but as it is, I don't see Green pouring any extra passion into them compared to the perfection already achieved in the studio (unless added bits of annoying stage banter count). So from that point of view, maybe it is more fun, in a way, to hear 'Love And Happiness' rearranged as a disco jam, or to get a better chance to enter a dance trance during the extra five minutes of 'I Feel Good' that Al and the band spend hitting it.
Something tells me that, perhaps, a live album from some earlier tour might have worked better; but since I have no proof, I'll have to take it for granted that this is the average Al Green live show, and that there's no way to properly capture it on record without me giving it a moderate thumbs down, according to my general views on the value of live albums. On the other hand, this is, so far, the only official Al Green live album in existence, and, therefore, is a must-buy for fans who crave knowledge as much as they crave enjoyment.