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Review by Bryget Chrisfield

Clocking tonight’s stage set-up – including separate drum and percussion kits bookending two keyboard consoles (to be played by two keyboardists) – we already know the musicianship will be top-tier. And so it should be! We’ve assembled to farewell the Empress Of Soul, Gladys Knight, afterall.

Gladys’ joyous presence is infectious – talk about a million-watt smile! – and her shoulder shimmies delight throughout. She regularly tells us we hit her in the feels (“I feel so loved!”), often while beating her chest with a fist for emphasis.

Sure, Gladys does forget the lyrics a couple of times. But one of her outstanding backup vocalists always reliably picks up where she left off, without missing a single syllable. These badasses typically remain seated for the show’s duration (don’t worry, there’s synchronised arm-ography), although they do rise and sashay forwards a couple of times for maximum impact. The mesmeric Midnight Train To Georgia is further elevated thanks to this BV trio’s The Locomotion-inspired armwork.

Mid-song, Gladys notices a front-row fan with a smartphone held aloft and hams it up, geeing herself up for the impressive power note that follows. Then, staring directly down the lens, she rates her own performance with a chef’s kiss. Licence To Kill is bombastically Bond, as we’d hoped, and I Heard It Through The Grapevine slaps harder than it has any damn right to – cue: funk-activated stank faces and much chair-jiving. A snippet of Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) even sneaks its way within The Nitty Gritty. Later, Never Give Up by Luther Vandross morphs into Save The Overtime (For Me) – talk about segue goals! Their take on Donnie McClurkin’s gospel classic Stand is a spiritual experience.

While genuinely engaging with her backing band, Gladys dishes out some praise: “I like that!” She also throws up devil’s horns as convincingly as a seasoned rock’n’roller at one point.

“Can it be that it was all so simple then?” – The Way We Were is this evening’s undisputed set highlight, Gladys perched – elegantly, of course – on a high stool and creating new “misty, water-coloured memories” for all assembled. Gladys’ 79 years spent gracing this Earth add so much poignancy to every well-timed pause and knowing chuckle. And a flurry of applause follows her sustained powernote during this one.




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