At 67, Gladys Knight doesn’t have anything left to prove. But at her recent, almost-sold-out show on the mainstage at Proctors, the soul diva proved a few interesting things anyway.
Knight can still sing. Whether it was on one of her many memorable hits or her brief excursions into the Great American Songbook, Knight was mistress of a very fine, well-maintained instrument. She was a pleasure to hear.
She cared enough to take a first-rate band on the road with her. The lineup of two keyboards/synths, guitar, bass, drums and four backup singers made for a full sound that justified the top-dollar ticket prices.
She knows how to lead an audience where she wants them to go, and make them feel happy to get things they didn’t know they wanted. Knight introduced some new material and made the audience cheer that they liked it. (I’m not sure they did. I was underwhelmed.)
The highlights were exactly what you would have expected them to be: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Neither One of Us (Wants To Be the First to Say Goodbye).” (As far as I’m concerned, Knight owns “Grapevine.” The fact that she did it first—and best—takes nothing away from the power and paranoia of the Marvin Gaye and Creedence Clearwater Revival versions.) Her lilting, lovely, Brazilian-flavored take on “The Man I Love” was too short, and her economical reading of “The Way We Were” suggested she could steal the song from Streisand without much apparent effort.
A surprise arrived just before the end in the person of Knight’s brother Merland, an ex-Pip whose singing and clowning ranged from inspired to groaningly cheesy. The audience ate it up, perhaps in part because they knew it prolonged the evening. The close-to-90-minute-long show ended, of course, with Knight leading her band—and the crowd—on her iconic “Midnight Train to Georgia.”
It sent everyone out on a high note.