LEWISTON – It was a sweaty R&B revival on Tuesday night with a double bill of soulful royalty hitting the Artpark stage. Miss Gladys Knight and band played first, followed by a set by the O’Jays: Both acts embodied class, showmanship and gratitude.
After a customary band warm-up, gradually building and readying the crowd for the star’s entrance, Knight emerged to a deafening ovation amid an onslaught of dance electronics. Absolutely radiant, she was dressed in an orange and black sparkly top, leggings and four-inch-heeled black leather Louboutin boots (telltale red soles) that she danced in with enviable ease.
She moved on to her first cherished crowd pleaser, “If I Were Your Woman,” intermittently waving to her fans, who sang along to every word. Enacting every phrase of her songs, Knight infuses her power ballads with self-empowerment.
“Hi!” Knight gushed, “I’m so excited to be with y’all! It’s been a while. I’m gonna do what I gotta do. Some of you weren’t even here when some of these were made. Now I never spoke to a man like I sing in ‘If I Were Your Woman.’ Back then, some little church lady would have come out and beat you with her pocketbook. You know what I mean,” she said, pointing to some ladies in the front row.
“You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” one of her best-known love songs, was embellished with keyboard flourishes augmenting the passion. With arms open wide, Knight shouted at the end of the song, “I like that song!”
She mentioned her stint on “Dancing With the Stars.”
“Outside my comfort zone,” she confessed.
Sonic heaven happened with her cover of “I Hope You Dance,” recorded previously by Lee Ann Womack and then by Knight, she said, at the urging of movie director Tyler Perry. Her four backup vocalists gave the song an extra gospel choir layer. About the lyrics Knight said, “And I do hope you dance; we have all these special things inside of us.”
Her gorgeous rendition of “The Way We Were” featured her lush vocals in sustained power mode.
Following “Neither One of Us,” a fan handed up a dozen yellow roses to Knight. “Give me flowers when I’m living,” she said. She asked the fan’s name – Louis – and, as it was the day before his birthday, she sang “Happy Birthday” to him “and anything else you want to be celebrating” to everyone.
Introducing her brother, Merald “Bubba” Knight, an original Pip, she sat out as he paid tribute to James Brown with a medley of the Godfather of Soul’s hits. They joined in a duet on “Love and Happiness” before she ended with “Midnight Train to Georgia,” calling for everyone to “be my Pips!” Her encore was “I Will Survive,” with a slowed-down bluesy melody.
Then it was the O’Jays’ turn to wow the crowd. They glowed in matching emerald green swashbuckler-meets-disco-kings shirts, setting them apart from their equally-deft band all dressed in black.
“Unity,” their first number, was followed by a cavalcade of their hits. The assured showmen, dripping with diamonds and singing to the ladies up in front, as well as entwined couples, worked through “Lovin’ You” and their soulful “Forever Mine.”
“Back Stabbers” made the crowd wild, and then it was blue lamp party time with “Let Me Make Love to You” and “Cry Together,” with Eddie Levert taking a solo turn at the play-by-play lyrics that bled into “Stairway to Heaven.” They ended their set with more of their high-energy classics, band introductions and announcements of upcoming solo projects.
Commanding and steamy “Love Train” and “For the Love of Money” confirmed that the O’Jays, like Knight, remain relevant and praiseworthy.
Gladys Knight and the O’Jays
Part of Tuesday in the Park at Artpark, 450 S. Fourth St., Lewiston.