Gladys Knight’s double-header with The O’Jays was a spirited celebration of old-school R&B and soul.
Performing Thursday night at Chateau Ste. Michelle, the two veteran acts offered a solidly entertaining evening loaded with nostalgia but delivered with almost youthful energy.
Opening with “I (Who Have Nothing),” the still-glamorous, 69-year-old “Empress of Soul” was a bundle of energy, offering soaring versions songs that helped define R&B and soul in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Knight’s set featured a five-piece band, four singers and older brother Bubba (Merald) Knight of the original Gladys Knight & the Pips (“They raised me,” Gladys Knight said of the Pips). Brother Bubba, dressed in slacks and a multi-colored vest, paid tribute to James Brown, telling a member of the band to “give me an A-flat minor with a B in the middle for Bubba — and put some Tabasco sauce on it.” His brief but fiery performance recalled the group’s heyday and added extra zest to a brisk and colorful show.
Indeed, it was the songs from Gladys Knight’s days with the Pips that brought the biggest smiles and loudest applause: “If I Were Your Woman,” “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye),” “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (recorded a year before Marvin Gaye’s version) and “The Way We Were.”
Many of Gladys Knight’s messages were autobiographical and even inspirational. “What a journey this has been, and every moment I’m in awe that I’m still here,” she said of her long career, which began in the early ‘50s when the 7-year-old future star was a winner on Ted Mack’s “Original Amateur Hour” TV show.
She closed with “I Will Survive,” the Gloria Gaynor hit that Knight seems to have adopted as a personal anthem. (Knight has a new album, “Another Journey,” available on iTunes.)
The O’Jays – Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and Eric Grant – took the stage dressed in matching suits for a tightly choreographed set featuring gorgeous harmony vocals.
Backed by a six-piece band, two singers and four horn players, The O’Jays brought the crowd to its feet with the 1972 hit “Back Stabbers,” followed by such favorites as “I Love Music,” “Love Train,” “Use ta Be My Girl” and “For the Love of Money.”
Levert, Williams and Grant were playful and good-humored, joking about sex, music, teenage fashion and the all-white horn section that had been hired locally for their set.