Review: Gladys Knight Live at the Hollywood Bowl

The first time I ever heard the Empress of Soul, I was about 9 years old. “Midnight Train to Georgia” was playing on a boombox on the schoolyard, and a group of girls were dancing. So when I saw that Gladys Knight was playing live at the Hollywood Bowl, I asked my wife and she said YES.  The seven-time Grammy winner is an R&B, soul, pop and gospel legend with six number one R&B albums. “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “Midnight Train to Georgia” are classic songs inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for historical and artistic significance. Knight’s awards and accolades are extensive.

Gladys Knight Live
Gladys Knight with her band; All images by Richard Bilow

Peabo Bryson Love Songs

Peabo Bryson opened the show, setting the stage for a night of great music under the stars. Bryson is best known for singing soul ballads and for his incredible duets with Roberta Flack, Regina Belle, and Celine Dion. His work with Disney followed years of hit songs from the late 70’s into the early 90’s with lots of great duets. With 21 albums Bryson has a lot to choose from. “If You’re in my Arms Again,” “Tonight I celebrate My Love” and “Feel the Fire” showed why he is considered to be a master of the love song. He of course delivered for those who came to the show hoping to hear his Disney hits. Every song he performed was on the charts back in the day and was known by, or probably sounded familiar to most in the audience.

Peabo Bryson with back up singer Miss J.

Gladys Knight Live

Judging from the permanent smile on her face, Gladys Knight seems to love performing as much now as ever before. Her performance at the Hollywood Bowl was pure joy for all who attended. The seasoned performer came out strong with “Taste of Bitter Love,” and it was full steam ahead from that point on. The Empress of Soul glided across the stage with a youthful energy that caught me off guard. At 79 years old, she shows little sign of slowing down. She also looks gorgeous.

As the performance progressed, the hits kept coming. Gladys is not one to showboat however. Her beautiful tone, classy use of dynamics and impressive vocal range came through clearly, but in a very unpretentious way. She uses her skills with restraint and only as needed to deliver the songs with excellence, not to prove how great she is. There were moments when her full abilities shined through. Those are the special moments in the songs we love. Gladys does not perform from a place of ego. She is on that stage to share her God-given gifts with us all, to lift our spirits, bring us together, celebrate life and to spread love.

Gladys spoke directly to the audience between songs and encouraged us all to appreciate one another. She uses her music to heal. Her spirtuality is evident in her presence, radiant smile and vocal chops.

Gladys Knight Live
Gladys Knight with full band;

Gladys Knight, Empress of Soul

As the show progressed with over 17 songs in total, the audience was right with her every step of the way. When she sang “Heard it Through the Grapevine” it seemed like half the audience joined in and sang on key. Gladys was loving it. When she delivered her slow stirring rendition of “Memories,” originated by Barbara Streisand, she lingered on the spaces before the words. In return the audience anticipated every lyric, often humorously with chuckles audible throughout the venue. When someone shouted, I love you really loud at one point, Gladys responded I love you too, and she really meant it

It is obvious that Gladys loves and appreciates her fans. She believes in love. She sings about love, and she performs with love. Her ten-member band featured three excellent pitch perfect backup singers. The quality of the musicianship was clearly top notch. All-in-all, I am so glad we attended the show. My wife had me up and dancing which is not a regular thing. Check the Hollywood Bowl calendar for more upcoming concerts;

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