Niagara Gazette

August 21, 2013

Gladys Knight, the O'Jays dazzle Artpark crowd

By Thom Jennings
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — When a pro athlete enters their respective hall of fame it means that they no longer can perform at their peak level. They are retired from their sport.

Thankfully, when a musician enters their respective hall of fame, it has nothing to do with their current ability to perform, and if you thought it did, then you were not at Artpark on Tuesday watching two Rock Hall of Famers knock it out of the park.

We will start with Gladys Knight, who the stage around 7 p.m.

Where do I begin? Her appearance? Well Ms. Knight is the epitome of beauty and grace. Her smile can light up a major city.

What about her voice? Not an ounce of deterioration. She sounded magnificent.

Her performance? If I had to describe it in one word, that word would be magical. In a season with some of the heaviest hitters in rock history gracing the Artpark stage, Gladys Knight overshadowed them all and claimed her spot as the “empress.”

Knight knows how to connect with a crowd on a personal level. I loved it when she made light of the fact that Marvin Gaye made a hit out of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” a year after Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded their version of the song. With all due respect to the late Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knights version is the better of the two, and on Tuesday her live version of the song was sublime to say the least.

Knight had the majority of the Artpark crowd dancing and having a great time. It was a scene that made me realize what an act of genius it was to book this double bill. The crowd was not the typical Tuesday night crowd by any means, but they were there to have fun, and they did.

When Knight finished her “opening” set, the crowd roared for an encore. Too often the encore is scripted, and even if this one was, the crowd was not going to let her leave without playing one more song.

When she returned, Knight sang a unique version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” that made me reconsider the old expression “disco sucks,” especially since I got caught up in the moment and started dancing with everyone else in the place.

The O’Jays had the unenviable task of following Gladys Knight.

Early in their set the O’Jays performed “Give the People What They Want,” a song from 1975 whose message still holds true today. It was the O’Jays ability to successfully incorporate meaningful social commentary into catchy pop songs that made them hall of famers.

The group, dressed in bright green, was at their best during their last three songs of the night, “Love Train,” “Use to Be My Girl,” and “For the Love of Money.”

For most shows, I stay in the front, but for this show, I sat on the side lawn to catch the ending, and I was glad I did. Watching the entire crowd dance and have a great time during the last three songs was quite a spectacle to soak in, and it captured everything I love about the venue.

That, and hearing songs that I first heard from two of my favorite artists, Hall and Oates and Utopia, done by the original artist made the evening a special one.

Thom Jennings covers Artpark for Night and Day