Let’s be honest. Age is not always kind to musicians, and we’ve all heard “legacy artists” that we felt were overdue for retirement. Fortunately this wasn’t the case for 70-year-old singer Gladys Knight, who looked elegant and sounded wonderful as she charmed the Chumash Casino Resort on Thursday night with songs spanning the decades.
The show kicked off in funky-disco mode with “I (Who Have Nothing)” and “Love Overboard,” then made the transition to classic soul with “Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Make Yours a Happy Home,” from the movie Claudine.
The classic soul continued — “y’all sent this record to Number One” in the Soul charts — with “If I Were Your Woman.” Afterward, Knight cracked up the audience by saying, “Back in the day, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to walk up to no man and say that. ‘If I were your woman, and you were my man,’ huh. Some little old lady would come up and beat you with her pocketbook.”
Knight’s versatility continued with a medley of the ballads “The Man I Love,” “Stormy Weather” and “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which she introduced with her idea of Prince Charming: “He don’t have to come in on a white horse. He can come in a white truck, I don’t care.”
This was followed by “The Dream,” a song with a positive message off Knight’s 2013 album Another Journey.
Knight next introduced the classic, “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” by recounting that she was sitting in a movie theater watching Forrest Gump, and was surprised to hear the song during the scene in which Gump keeps running and running. At the Chumash, this was full of energy, reminding us what a great song it is.
Knight briefly returned to ballad mode for “Way We Were,” with lyrics co-written by Alan Bergman, who performed at the Lobero Theatre not too long ago. Her intro to this one got the audience laughing again: “Think about the good things. This ain’t the first time we’ve been broke.”
Knight then launched into “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which it must be remembered was first a hit in faster and funkier form for Gladys Knight & the Pips before becoming an even bigger hit for Marvin Gaye. In the middle, Knight reminisced: “That was a fun song. That was a great year ... Then my brother, Marvin, came along and he stole it.” She continued by saying that they were happy for Gaye, but noted, “I did have a conversation about that, though.”
The song finished with a call and response with the audience and everyone clapping along.
After another soul hit, “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye),” we got a real treat — Knight’s older brother (and former Pip), Merald “Bubba” Knight Jr., came onstage. This was
ostensibly just to “say hello to my fans,” but he then quickly asked, “Can I have my own microphone?” He proceeded to sing a slow, genuinely moving version of the Beatles song, “Yesterday,” which he dedicated to his sister, who later joined in for a duet. Lest this get too serious, though, Bubba amusingly changed the lyrics to “Suddenly, I’m not half the Pip I used to be.”
Bubba stuck around to sing a cover of Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy,” showing that he's still got some good dance moves, and then to sing background vocals on Knight’s signature song “Midnight Train to Georgia,” which closed the show.
Gladys Knight was gracious throughout the evening, repeatedly thanking her fans and always having a smile on her face. It was truly a night, and a Knight (times two), to remember.
I (Who Have Nothing)
Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me
Make Yours a Happy Home
If I Were Your Woman
The Man I Love / Stormy Weather / Someone to Watch Over Me
I've Got to Use My Imagination
Way We Were
I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)
Midnight Train to Georgia
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.