As we await the arrival of the Empress of Soul, the audience is given a chance to soak up the stage setting of four ornate white columns – illuminated – while her nine-piece backing band make themselves at home on the stage. Eventually, Gladys Knight is escorted out onto the stage, wearing a floaty, shimmering ensemble and a beaming smile that radiates gratitude and joy.
Early on, we’re treated to Knight’s “very first” song, Every Beat of My Heart (the 1961 Gladys Knight & The Pips single). Her backing-vocal trio is seated on stools, from which they sway, clap and finger snap in unison. Knight’s backing band expertly underscore her matchless God-given instrument throughout. As an audience member, it’s a relaxing experience watching this show unfold and letting the beauty of this music temporarily wash away whatever it is that currently weighs heavily on your mind.
Her easy banter is endearing throughout. Gladys Knight & The Pips released I Heard It Through the Grapevine first, in 1967, before Marvin Gaye “stole it” the following year, Knight reminds us. She also shares that their producer was so hyped to record this song that they headed straight into Motown Studios without having booked any studio time and kicked some “guy” outta the recording booth. When we learn said “guy” was in fact Motown royalty, Smokey Robinson, hilarity ensues.
“Her easy banter is endearing throughout.”
A punter yells out, “I love you,” to which Knight responds, “I love you, too,” before cheekily adding, “See, I heard that!” Knight’s James Bond theme song Licence to Kill is a soaring slice of brilliance and her sustained “yoooooouuuuuuur” towards this song’s conclusion attracts wild applause. Her singing style never relies on ornamental melisma, with Knight’s total devotion to melody on display while sincere emotion seeps through – it’s all so effortless! After singing a segment of Sam Smith’s Stay With Me, Knight admits, “I like that song”.
The dapper gent in Knight’s BV trio, JaVonté – an artist in his own right whose crystalline vocals grace the likes of Kendrick Lamar’s She Needs Me – stands and delivers the first incandescent verse of Never Too Much by Luther Vandross. Each exquisite backing vocalist gets their time to shine and we whoop and holler our appreciation – singing alongside Knight, and impressing her fans, is no mean feat.
Knight’s version of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman is a showstopper, her take on Barbra Streisand’s The Way We Were gets us all misty-eyed nostalgic and the Grammy Award-winning Gladys Knight & The Pips tune Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye) is a clever acknowledgement of how we all feel about this evening’s concert coming to an end. “I’m so glad y’all showed up!” Knight extols and then it’s all aboard that Midnight Train to Georgia.
Calls of ‘she’s doing well for her age’ certainly don’t apply when it comes to this septuagenarian, as Knight could blow anyone of any age off the stage with those golden pipes. And those blissed-out smiles on dials as we ride escalators back up to street level don’t lie.