LYNN — Gladys Knight, the Empress of Soul, magically turned Lynn Auditorium into her church Sunday night. Positive vibes filled the venue as the seven-time Grammy winner sang songs of love and hope. Worshippers’ cries of “We love you Gladys” and “Sing it sister” rang out, often in the middle of a song, throughout the 90-minute show.
Knight, in turn, praised and thanked attendees for their unwavering support throughout her career. Mid-show, one fan navigated her way to the foot of the stage and presented a floral bouquet to Knight, who was clearly moved by the gesture. “Thank you so much for thinking of me before you even got here,” said Knight, wiping her eyes. The crowd roared its approval.
Yup, the love overboard quotient was off the charts from both performer and fans. Hallelujah, they love her so.
This was the third consecutive year Knight, looking much younger than her 75 years, has performed at the auditorium. All three shows have been different. The only constant has been the star’s chatty-ness; but her upbeat song introductions are often funny and always heartfelt.
Knight opened with “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” a soulful, slow-burning gem that immediately showed fans she’s lost nothing in the vocals department. Her contralto was sure and steady, tackling the funky vibe of 1969’s “Nitty Gritty” and the doo-wop smoothness of “Every Beat of My Heart,” her first top-10 single from 1961. Her five-piece band is first-rate, and three backing vocalists (two women, one man) successfully subbed for her renowned singers, the Pips.
Knight performed contemporary tunes, too. She and her singers formed a heavenly chorus on Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me.” Couples held hands, sneaked kisses and swayed to the bluesy ballad “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” “Why I Love You” by MAJOR, and Babs Streisand’s “The Way We Were.” She paid tribute to friend James Ingram, who died in January, by singing a heart-tugging “One Hundred Ways” (“Compliment what she does/Send her roses just because/If it’s violins she loves/Let them play. Dedicate her favorite song/And hold her closer all night long/Love her today/Find one hundred ways”). Awwwww.
The late Aretha Franklin was also remembered with a rousing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”; audience members sang the chorus with gusto.
The themes of love and the importance of communication in relationships turned up in several songs, including the disco-ish “Save the Overtime For Me.” A sensationally soulful and poignant reading of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night” earned an extended standing ovation. “(Neither One of Us) Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye” was another standout.
Knight told a funny story of how Norman Whitfield, a songwriter for Berry Gordy’s Motown labels, finally fulfilled his promise to give Knight and the Pips a hit song. “Even though Marvin (Gaye) stole it the next year, our version of ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ was Motown’s best-selling record (in 1967),” Knight said with pride and good humor. Sunday, Knight delivered the song in both Gaye’s style (slow and smooth) and her’s (upbeat and rowdy). The crowd danced and clapped along.
Sunday was a Knight to remember at Lynn Auditorium. Lord willing, maybe she’ll be back in 2020.