The Best Thing: Gladys Knight In Atlanta (6/18/17)

There’s just something about that voice.  It’s nearly impossible to describe: Is it smoky? Is it smooth?  Is it rough like sandpaper or is it thick with emotion?  Gladys Knight is a once-in-a-lifetime vocalist, a woman who was clearly born to sing and gifted with a wholly unique instrument.  And more than 50 years into her legendary career, that instrument is as impressive and effective as ever, as the singer proved during an 80-minute set at the Atlanta Botanical Garden Sunday night.

The setting, it should be noted, couldn’t have been more appropriate for an evening with the Empress of Soul.  Atlanta is her town, after all; she was born in Atlanta, recorded her first hit song here (1961’s “Every Beat Of My Heart”), and immortalized her home state forever with the 1973 #1 hit “Midnight Train To Georgia.”  The summer concert series at Atlanta Botanical Garden places musical artists in an outdoor setting that is at once intimate and expansive; under the open sky and with skyscrapers providing a backdrop, audiences crowd up to the stage on a lush, green lawn, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow fans.  Once the sun set and a cool breeze began to sweep across the lawn, it was as magical an evening as one could hope for.

Gladys took the stage promptly at 8 p.m., in a form-fitting red ensemble and looking impossibly young and full of energy, and opened the show with her 1987 hit “Love Overboard.”  After warning the crowd that she was going to take them “way back” — she moved into that first hit song, “Every Beat Of My Heart,” which she explained had been released without her knowledge and which she first heard walking down the street outside an Atlanta music store and suddenly recognizing her own voice.  After a lengthy “rap session” with the crowd, during which she encouraged fans to speak back to the stage and expressed her sincere gratitude for their support over the years, Ms. Knight delivered one of the highlights of the night, her 1974 hit “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.”  No longer performing with The Pips, three young singers did a superb job backing Gladys and capturing the song’s famous harmonies, and Knight’s voice sounded nearly identical to the performance captured forever on record.

Along with offering up powerful and pitch-perfect renditions of Motown hits including “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye),” and “If I Were Your Woman,” Gladys Knight presented a few surprises, including a brief take on Sam Smith’s recent hit “Stay With Me” and a “Hello” medley during which she combined both the Lionel Richie and Adele hits of the same title.  Her voice is in astoundingly good shape, seemingly untouched by the passage of time, and she remains a sharp, very funny lady, as evidenced by her playful banter between each song.  She did a lot of “mothering” of her band during the show, dispensing little bits of wisdom and teasing them about their youth; it’s clear that she has a close bond with her musicians and background singers.  Those young singers did a tremendous job with a Prince tribute medley, energizing the crowd with several of the late singer’s hits before Gladys returned to the mic for a powerful take on “Purple Rain,” and the evening ended with the singer’s biggest hit, the #1 pop and R&B classic “Midnight Train To Georgia.”  The entire crowd rose to its feet for this final number, taking on the role of the Pips and singing along in what became an extended celebration of both Atlanta and the famous woman born there.

Throughout the show, Gladys Knight repeatedly thanked the audience for allowing her so many years of being able to record great music.  But after a superb evening of hearing that voice — that impossible-to-describe, but unforgettable voice — it’s obvious that as long as seasoned pros like Gladys Knight continue sharing their gifts, audiences are the ones who should be offering thanks.

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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13 Responses to The Best Thing: Gladys Knight In Atlanta (6/18/17)

  1. Wayne Hill says:

    Fantastic review. I saw Gladys recently and I totally agree, her voice is still as amazing as ever. Time doesn’t seem to have affected it!!! It’s astonishingly well preserved.

    She told us her parents told her to never shy away from a note and to go for everything, she did exactly that. The woman is a living legend.

    • Paul says:

      Wasn’t she great, Wayne? I expected a good show — but I didn’t expect how fantastic she would sound. Her renditions of “If I Were Your Woman” and “The Way We Were” and others were exactly as they’d sounded back in the 70s. It gave me a whole new appreciation for her talent! Where did you see her?

  2. Ross says:

    Thanks for this. Reviewing beyond Diana but still in the same ‘world’. Loved this !

    • Paul says:

      Thanks! It was a great show. And now I get to see Diana this Saturday in West Palm Beach — talk about a week of great music! I’ll be posting my review of Diana’s concert next Sunday or Monday!

      • pnyc1969 says:

        Hi, Paul–

        I’m really enjoying your reviews of the 70s Supremes—I love that unofficial name! I’m going to listen to some of the songs I’m not familiar with and write a response ASAP.

        I’m a big Gladys fan. Her voice is unique and very different from Diana’s. I’ve read her vocal technique described a wailing sound. She was certainly the best prepared and most on her game when I saw her in the the Divas with Heart bill with Diana, Patti and Chaka.

        Have a great time at the concert this weekend. Can’t wait to read your review. If you’re planning on spending any time during your trip in nearby Fort Lauderdale, which is a lot more fun than Palm Beach, let me know in a private message and I’ll give you some recommendations if you like. Fort Liquordale–I mean Fort Lauderdale–is my second home.

        Best, Peter

      • Paul says:

        I am so jealous you got to see Divas With A Heart!! What a show. What did you think??? And LOL at Fort Liquordale!!!!

  3. Alexis Bryce says:

    I just love Gladys! She never disappoints. Diana may be my favorite singer to listen to; but if I were a singer, I’d want to sound like Miss Gladys Knight. I’ll be seeing her later this year (for the fourth time) in a most picturesque setting in the northern California hills (Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, near San Jose). Diana might have a tough time topping Gladys’ show!

    • Paul says:

      Wow…seeing Gladys in the CA hills will be amazing!!!! Can’t wait to hear about…make sure to post your thoughts 🙂 Her voice really is astounding. It is an instrument…for me, she’s like Anita Baker and Luther Vandross…people that were born with a true musical instrument.

  4. Marcus says:

    I’ve always loved Gladys Knight. I have the most records and CDs by Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, and Doris Day. I saw Miss Knight in my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC. It was in the newly built coliseum in the late’80s or early ’90s. But I will never forget that certain something voice. It sets her apart from everyone else. (Of course, I feel that way about Diana Ross. Her voice is unique as well.) Thanks for the post, always enjoy them.-Marcus

    • Paul says:

      Marcus — I’ve always liked Gladys, but really only know her hits. This concert has definitely inspired me to start investigating her catalog. Any ideas where I should start?

  5. Mark Fletcher says:

    Thanks Paul for that lovely and atmospheric review! It sounds like a truly magical evening…
    I’m looking forward to seeing Ms Knight next week at The Royal Albert Hall in London, so… great to read your thoughts on one of my All Time Favourites ! Thank you!

    Best regards,

    Mark
    Royal Leamington Spa, England.

    Sent from my iPhone

  6. pnyc1969 says:

    Paul–

    RE my comments above (there is no way to respond directly to your responses) I wrote about Divas With Heart long ago. I don’t remember on which album review. But I commented that Gladys ruled the (K)night! She was magnificent and the only diva that was completely together, completely on point and completely with the audience. She stunned. Apropos to whatever, Patti claimed second place with a very decent, if slightly overwrought, performance. Diana came in third with what I believe was the shakiest performance of the 16 times I’ve seen her. She seemed about as comfortable as she seemed on Motown 25. I don’t think Diana likes singing with other women. Chaka was rather unpolished and I’ll leave it at that.

    Since this review is about a colleague I’ll mention that I saw Patti in Queens last year and guess was in the audience–Rhonda Ross! Patti took ample time to introduce her and say she her girlfriend Diana Ross’s daughter and then mentioned the entire Ross family in song, saying how much she loved them all. Patti is a very lovely woman.

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