Gladys Knight – Live @ Civic Theatre, Auckland 2020
The Legendary “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight, breezed into Auckland last night under the radar for the start of her New Zealand Tour. As a youngster I fondly remember watching her on our old black & white television set. Gladys Knight & The Pips’ music piped through the feeble non-existent tv speakers, it seemed a world away. I know I’m showing my age here, but so too, were most of the crowd – it was definitely a generation thing.
WORDS BY WAL REID
Her emotive music and soulful voice has transcended the decades, she even bagged a Grammy Award for her solo work on the 1989 James Bond theme song License To Kill. She quietly mentioned she “nearly didn’t record this song” as she doesn’t “like guns”. However, there was no going ‘undercover’ tonight for the legendary RnB Diva, she had the crowd dancing in the aisles and out their seats. The band played with a hiss and a roar, but that only incited the crowd as her backing singers tore down the roof, especially on Carole King’s (You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman.
Tonight the seven-time Grammy Award-winner wasted no time leaving an indelible mark on the auspicious Civic Theatre. It was incredible seeing her live strutting the stage but her voice, her God-given talent, ageless, flawlessly singing as if a role she was born to fulfil. Probably doesn’t hurt she looks ten younger than her stated years as well.
She shared her earliest memory singing as a four year old adding, “back then you got whipped” she recalled. One of her most well-known songs I Heard It Through the Grapevine almost never made it. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ means you weren’t there”, further adding. “It’s gossip, as Mama would say”.
As her career came on the rise in the early ’50s, she released numerous songs to her name. Her breakout hit Every Beat of My Heart was followed by a string of successful singles before the release of Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye)—a soulful album which earned Knight her first Grammy Award. Then another for her smash hit Midnight Train to Georgia, before picking up another for her collaboration with Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Dionne Warwick for the iconic hit tune That’s What Friends Are For.
Donned in muted sparkly black attire, her outfit trailing her as the band played in her slipstream. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” she screamed over the cheering of the crowd. Her narrative in-between songs was like taking a guided tour.
The colourful raconteur rattled off story after story, of her amazing life surrounded by the calibre of talented people like vocalist James Ingram & “little brother” Marvin Gaye. Songwriter Jim Weatherly also featured as his song Midnight Train To Georgia was received with raucous applause.
Her rambunctious outlook added a maternal warmth, as she found her way into the hearts of the audience – how could you not warm to her? “I’ve waited a long time for this night,” she proceeded to tell the crowd. It was her first tour of the country in over two decades, so there was generous leeway given on the crowd’s behalf since her last visit here. With her nine-piece band in tow, she performed most of the hits she is known for the world over, including Ed Sheeran’s earworm Perfect & Sam Smith’s beautiful Stay With Me. Both given the ‘Gladys’ treatment to the delightful squeals of the audience.
Hard to believe she has quinquagenarian-plus fanboys and fangirls, but they revelled and screeched their way through her set like teenagers seeing their idols for the first time.
Her band were absolutely stunning, tight, soulful and robotically in sync. If you want ‘church’ Gladys will give it to you. You want to hear the hits and more, Gladys has that covered also. Today’s RnB/Soul singers lack that vital ingredient; the style and vibe of those austere time emulated through her music. You can’t replicate that unless you’ve lived through it.
She waxed lyrical about the importance of “communication”, “you’ve got to have the grit and the meat to make it real” she implored. It was a lesson in life as much as it was an engaging music concert, but I think all of us were just in awe at witnessing this living legend sing her song – and that you can never replicate either.
Very limited tickets are still available for her final NZ show in Christchurch, but I would get in fast to snatch those up if I were you.