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REVIEW: Gladys Knight 2024 Farewell Tour

Review by Charmaine Jones – Performance date Thursday 21 March 2024, Adelaide Festival Centre, South Australia

The electricity in the audience was palpable. The anticipation, the expectation, awaiting a legend that some had followed musically for 54 years, from conversations that I had with members of the audience, who after the show were elated that they idol had delivered … 

But let’s wind it back … 

The curtain warmer was no reflection of what was to come. It was obvious that that there was a hesitation from the audience of what the night was to bring, after the support band’s set, especially as the clock kept ticking, and Gladys was absent from the stage. 

Finally, after 45 minutes, the house music, (a selection of Earth Wind and Fire, Chicago and other heavy funk/soul bands, which was a better fit for the treat ahead), diminished. The lights on the stage brightened to reveal a serious band set up.

A seperate drum and percussion ‘kit’, either side of the stage and a double keyboard Korg set up, plus a two stacked synth configuration lay smack bang, elevated in the centre of the stage. 

An Electric guitarist and (what I think I could see from my stage view in the stalls), a seven string bass player, took the floor space along with three female BV’s (backing vocalists) dressed in blacks and seated on stools. Their demeanour and attitude brought peace instantly and excitement, as their years of experience in being support singers of integrity and value, rang loudly even before their mouths opened. 

You could almost hear the audience breathe in the gravity of this band. 

And then, Gladys was walked out, with some help, and one could hear a pin drop, in an auditorium which was sadly not at capacity for the life changing event which was about to follow. 

In a canary yellow flared pant and matching peplum styled top, which clung to her figure accentuating every graceful curve, Gladys’ smile widened to reveal the whitest of teeth incased in beautiful, luscious singers lips; her hair perfectly coiffed and a rich, warm speaking voice welcomed the crowd and thanked them for their loyalty and love. 

And that was just the beginning of the journey. 

It’s hard to explain every detail or nuance that made the experience of ‘Gladys Knight  – The Farewell Tour’,  one that every audience member will never forget. 

The setlist was a definite contributor, as it hit every era of her incredible career in repertoire. 

From her time with the Pip’s, to the number one hit ‘Licensed to kill’, where Gladys was a ‘bond girl, theme song, superstar’, to her loves of Soul and Gospel with tunes like Midnight Train to Georgia,  Heard it on the Grapevine and the Luther Vandross chart topper, Never Too Much, her phrasing was beautiful, gentle, sensuous and soulful. Her gospel-esque runs, rich in texture, from low F’s to her top notes, filled the space with so much clarity and authority. 

At her 79 years young, Gladys proved that she was a true artist musician, and not just a lead vocalist. 

Her direction and interplay with the band during her patter and their underscoring, combined with the timing of entries to tunes, was seamless. A true mastery of showmanship and star magic. 

Noteable mentions was the synth player. She did not miss a note, doubling string parts and playing the appropriate lines (from more than just the seven Grammy award winnings albums recorded over the years), with precision and the perfect synthesised sound choices. Evert syncopated line was perfectly timed. Every hit and stab was pure and complementary. 

The percussionist and drummer featured in the ballad ‘Neither one of us’ and their snaps, hits, groove, dynamics and backbeat, filled the pockets of air, even when they weren’t playing. Gentle and driving all at the same time, they added to the energy and breath within Gladys’ performance control – it was truly magnificent. These were the attributes which had the audience clapping, even before any song truly ended. 

It was obvious that Gladys’ gospel background was at the core of her longevity, success and style, which so many have come to know and love, over her years as an artist. She was in her element within this music, the timing, the lyrics. It was like second nature, something she had done a million times in her sleep, the prompters well left aside, as lyrics came back like mantras; words hidden in her heart. As did the beautiful sentiments, penned by the famous Bergman’s and Hamlisch, in ‘The way we were’. 

Gladys sat down for this iconic number, after wiping her tear-filled eyes saying “life is something amazing”. 

I have never heard that song ‘preached’ before, and Barbra’s epic rendition disappeared into the distance as Gladys pulled the time feel, laying way back, stretching the phrasing, adding a key change.. the arrangement was divine and the band followed the Musical Director superfluously.  

Gladys’ last note was sublime, held long and true, even as tears fell down her cheeks – joining the faces of many within the audience. Everyone could feel the lyrical power “if we had the chance to do it all again, tell me would we?”

The highlight however, (if there could be more!) was her Worship medley, which included the tune ‘Stand’, by Donnie McClurkin. 

“After you’ve done all you can – you just stand” – followed by a majestic rendition of ‘Take me to the King’ where the BV’s  came off their stools, marched in a line to stand alongside Gladys, to bring a powerful, almost semi classic texture with their vocal quality and individual solos, to Gladys’ spoken and sung treatment of the tunes. 

Intermittently she communicated with her audience, in a Shirley Ceasar-esque manner, encouraging us and guiding us, thankful for our presence and attesting her abilities to a Higher Power. 

The intensity between audience and performer was thick and deep, it was apparent that many in the room were having their own experience with not only the immeasurable Gladys Knight but with the spirit in the music.  

And then – as magically as it started – it was over. A bow. One bow for a career that has spanned 71 years since her debut at age 8 with the Pips. One wave to say farewell to decades of music that changed  the way generations of people, heard and understood music. 

I certainly won’t be the ‘first to say goodbye’ to this legend. In my heart or on my play list.  


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