Saturday, 10 October 2009

Gladys Knight at Wembley

Thursday night and a trek north to Wembley Arena to see the majestic Gladys Knight on her farewell tour. I saw Gladys three years ago at the Royal Albert Hall and thoroughly enjoyed her performance so I was looking forward to seeing her again. By the time we got there Tito Jackson (the support band) was already on stage so it became a debate between getting a beer and seeing a legendary Jackson - Tito v beer - and I'm afraid beer won (after my day at work I deserved it). I decided I'd made the right decision when I heard him to a extensively extended 'Walking The Dog' and then a woman singing 'I'll Be There' and 'Shake Your Body Down To The Ground' - c'mon Tito, if it's not Michael singing then it should at least be you.

Into the arena, found our seats and noticed cameras around the place since the show was being filmed (for a DVD I hope) and I reluctantly decided to obey the signs saying 'no photography' for a change, so there are no photos of Ms Knight, but she looked good in purple trousers and a sparkly off the shoulder number. There was a nice theatrical set with steps down onto the stage, the band on the raised level and four backing singers at each end of the stage with lots of space for Gladys to move around. As soon as she appeared at the top of the steps the whole crowd surged to our feet - that's Gladys Knight up there y'know! As she was off, putting on a great show for the next two hours.

Gladys still has her lovely powerful and warm voice and a back catalogue to kill for, and she took us on a musical journey from her first hit with The Pips, 'Every Beat Of My Heart' in 1961 and then moved us forward through different musical styles through the decades to her latest album three years ago. Never still and never sitting down, she kept moving across the stage, singing, chatting and joking with the crowd, a consummate performer.

And then on came the rogue Pip, Bubba Knight, Gladys's older brother who somehow found out that she was doing a show and decided to come over to London to help her out. Asking Gladys to hold his coat he then went into a great James Brown routine, energetically ruling the stage and ending up kneeling on the floor, unable to get up until Gladys did a Pips twirl and pulled him to his feet - "pretend like we've choreographed it" says brother Bubba. Daft as a brush but with a great voice and moves, he could show a lot of the latest crop of "stars" a thing or two about how to work an audience. He's got a great line in comedy and, with Gladys as his straight-woman puts on an excellent interlude in the show. Bubba is my favourite Pip, o yes.

Later in the show Gladys introduced us to her special guest, Dione Warwick, who looked a bit frail coming down the lighted staircase but, after singing Gladys's praises broke into song with Gladys joining in the choruses and singing her own parts in 'That's What Friends Are For'.

Gladys can give us heavy soul and heavy show-biz by turns with a voice that puts many of today's "stars" to shame - that lady can sing! Favourite moments for me were 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine', 'Midnight Train To Georgia', a dramatic 'License To Kill' and 'Save The Overtime For Me'. I'd also single out the encore - a definite highlight - a soulful version of 'I Will Survive' that, after the first verse exploded into it's discotastic glory sounding fresh and new with Gladys's voice.

It may be billed as her farewell tour but I hope there'll be many one-off shows in future - thanks for a great night out Gladys!

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