click to enlarge
Photo by Josh Bradley
Gladys Knight plays Hard Rock Event Center in Tampa, Florida on Feb. 22, 2023.
In a world with only one Staple Singer left, and all of Diana Ross’ Supremes gone, Gladys Knight—woman of God, chicken and waffle aficionado, and Empress of Soul—is not a figure to be taken for granted by any means.
Backed by a six-piece backing band, and three backup singers—the latter seated centerstage for the duration of the set—the 78-year-old managed to run through about 20 songs, some of which were cut down, in just over 75 minutes Tuesday night at the Hard Rock Events Center in Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. She would open with a small medley including snippets of tracks by Anthony David (“4evermore”) and her old friends, The Staple Singers (“I’ll Take You There,” “If You’re Ready,”) before smoothly segueing into “Make Yours a Happy Home,” which appeared on Knight and the Pips’ “Claudine” soundtrack in 1974.
When the beloved Atlanta diva—draped in a silver sequin-drenched blouse, and heels of the same feature—wasn’t puckering her lips and taking a pretty damn inclusive crowd back in time to her days fronting The Pips (“Oh! What a Love I Have Found,” “If I Were Your Woman”), she had stories to tell about an emotional meeting with Barbra Streisand (“The Way We Were”), and sermons of love to recite. “As we go along, you never know who you’re gonna bump into,” she began. “But you should have your mind, and your heart, and all of that ready, because we’re supposed to love each other.”
While we love our ‘60s jam bands, it’s heartwarming that after all these years, Knight has never let go of the way her version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” was originally performed, rather than picking up inspiration from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1970 version, which was an 11-minute jam sesh.
Before closing with “Midnight Train To Georgia” around 9:30 p.m., Knight sat down in a white chair—similar to those being used by the backup singers—to tackle a medley of modern gospel music standards (“The Question Is,” “Someone to Watch Over Me”), and even bounced up from her seat to finish off a version of Tamela Mann’s “Take Me to the King,” capable of shaking even the deadliest of sinners.
And before you start theorizing, no, the mighty Empress of Soul wasn’t lip-synching for a second. Even the longest notes—often ruined by premature applause—was all Gladys, and she even proved it by—probably unintentionally—not singing directly into the mic for seconds at a time, and allowing her timeless vocals to cut out from time to time.