Gig review: Gladys Knight at First Direct Arena, Leeds

“I’m not really up on this… what’s it called?” Gladys Knight poses about four or five songs into her show at Leeds’s First Direct Arena on a stormy Sunday night.

Gladys Knight. Picture: Derek Blanks

She steps away for a moment and leans towards her backing singer conspiratorially to confer. “Social media thing!” she exclaims to laughs, with an airy gesticulation. At seventy-five years, it’s perfectly feasible to believe that the Empress of Soul may have not mastered the intricacies of the online age – but at the very least, she knows how to work it for a genial punchline.

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Whether she has got to grasps with the internet is of little concern however, when her music is so resolutely rooted in analogue ways. Almost six decades on from her debut, Knight still presides over the same lithe blend of R&B that made her a superstar all those years ago, the sort of sounds that arguably warrant the term timeless being unfurled like a red carpet at the feet of their brass-tinged bombast and lush orchestrations. Most of that heavy lifting is done by two banks of keyboards tonight, flanked by a loosely flavoured band that blend seamlessly through genres and into the background.

The main attraction is clearly the woman at the centre, slow in her steps but far from frail. Knight may have lost a little power off her upper register but at three-quarters of a century she is still possessed of a stunning voice, pliant and commanding in equal measure. Opener I’ve Got to Use My Imagination sounds wonderfully strident, while Part Time Love really shows off her pipes. The twinkling Baby Don’t Change Your Mind pulls a predominantly older crowd into a bout of oddly boisterous seat-shuffle dancing that only adds to its endearing effervescence.

“Without you, there is no me,” Knight says at one of many intervals, met with proclamations of lasting love. There’s still surprises up her sleeve too; a cover of Major’s Why I Love You is a beautifully tranquil offering on the back of the Bond theme drama of Licence to Kill. “You’re gonna have to help me out on this one, ‘cause I ain’t got my Pips anymore,” she quips at the close when the ubiquitous Midnight Train to Georgia steams forward to cap off an 80-minute revue filled with the best of yesteryear; a short, sweet slice of good old soul.