June 23, 2023
By Wendy Thompson
Photos by Wendy Thompson and DC Spotlight Newspaper
On Thursday night at the MGM Grand at the National Harbor, the Washington, DC metro area was infused with a large dose of nostalgia, if only for two hours. The unflinching stalwart, Gladys Knight (minus the Pips) put on a show that sent R&B and Soul music enthusiats reeling. In an overflowing theater, fans scampered to get to their seats for the first songs. Then the Queen of sixties and seventies R&B arrived in all of her grandeur, looking stunning in a white dress that accented her frame. Knight will be 80 years old next year, but everything about her appearance seemed young last night, as if time had stood still since 1973.
In a cluster of some of her hits, she started the concert with “Make Yours a Happy Home,” an upbeat classic “family reunion” song, which received the first of many cheers from the audience. But it was “If I Were Your Woman” that sent screams from the crowd. The bluesy song about a woman who wishes to have the love of a man evoked audible comments from the fans of “sing Gladys, sing girl!” Fans that have followed Knight’s career were amazed by her stellar voice tonight. If anything, her voice has gotten stronger, clearer and crisp as she has gotten older.
By the time she got to “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination” she had become friends with the audience. As she introduced the song, she talked of the pains we often have of “messing up a good relationship.” A man in the audience yelled, “I won’t mess it up with you Gladys,” as the crowd roar with laughter. The performance of the song was one of the best of the night. She kicked around Luther Vandross’s hit song “Never Too Much” like a pro, which showcased her versatile voice and ability to take someone else’s song and make it her own.
When she got to “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, the crowd was “rocking and rolling”, but in a twist, she slowed the song down and channeled Marvin Gaye. In the first half, Gaye’s spirit took over the theater, and then Knight reclaimed the second half with an up-tempo rendition. The three background singers put on a stellar performance of their own during this song and clearly showcased why they have coveted spots singing behind Knight, instead of the formidable Pips who originally sang with her.
When a song begins with “It’s sad to think, we’re not going to make it,” an inevitable standing ovation is coming. “Neither One of Us”, the song with the most painful words, seemingly lifted the audience to their feet and virtually everyone in the theater was mouthing the words to the song: “Neither one of us wants to be the first to say goodbye.” This was the first of several standing ovations.
During “The Way We Were” (Memories), the song made famous by Barbra Streisand, the memorized crowd swayed quietly, giving the room the silence she needed to fill the entire theater with every word of the song. Many in the audience were visibly in tears. This is clearly the power of over six decades of great music from the Queen of sixties and seventies R&B.
For those who missed the performance, catching a later show on her tour is recommended. For those of us who were present in the theater, listening to the pearls of her songs at her feet, we cannot help but conclude that her music was the soundtrack of our lives during the sixties and seventies, our great memories…and the way we were.