Well maybe the elephant was only in my room, but I’m going to mention it anyway.
I hadn’t been on the Verzuz ‘battle’ train from inception. In fact, I only became mildly interested when I heard that Monica and Brandy (who’ve had a decades-long manufactured rivalry) were going to duke it out musically, but I gladly hopped on board when it was announced that Ms. Patti (LaBelle) and Gladys Knight were up next.
The lead-up on social media was epic. People couldn’t wait. They were hauling out interviews and guest appearances from years ago in which the two singers were featured. Patti was notorious for throwing down in the kitchen, so people were posting their menus for Sunday dinner – which I imagined they would have been consuming with Ciroc, which, if you lived in the US you could have had delivered to your home in less than an hour.
The people at Verzuz asked you to leave your church clothes on all day, ’cause this was an event – and you would have been glad you did when you saw Auntie Gladys appear in that sequined pantsuit, not to be outdone by – as one commenter put it – Dionne Warwick in the “crispiest” white pantsuit. (Yes, I’m just here for the comments). Snippets from concerts were featured. The divas themselves made promos for the ‘battle’ filled with much love and affection for each other. It was all in good fun, and everybody was looking forward to hearing their favourite songs from both of them, but everybody just knew that Patti was going to wipe the floor with Gladys.
In a classic case of CP time, the event didn’t start exactly at 8:00, and for a bit, we were treated to a view of two empty white chairs atop a brilliant red Oriental rug, flanking a table on which rested a floral centerpiece in a Ciroc-labelled container. In the background were four elegant chandeliers in the ceiling of what looked like a darkened theatre. As we know all too well from our share of Carnival fetes, there’s got to be a hype man to keep you entertained until the main act takes the stage. The DJ began to play snippets of up-tempo songs which he interspersed with queries about whether we were ready for Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle.
Well the expectation couldn’t get any higher and finally the ladies appeared – Gladys in the aforementioned sequined pantsuit in rose gold and Patti in a charcoal two-piece ensemble, completely appropriate for Sunday service. That’s the first thing that gave me pause. The nails were done and the heels were high but…
So as if we didn’t know that they’d been chatting it up backstage already, they both came out and continued the conversation, which prompted someone to comment that it was probably going to be a long night. I looked at the time. I supposed that I could stand to be up a little past 10:00 on account of some good singing. Gladys was the first up to bat and came out swinging. She had a band somewhere in the dark where we couldn’t see, and they were holding her steady. And then it was Patti’s turn and she was singing – but I was hearing her voice on the track too. And like any accomplished artist, she was wasn’t singing exactly like the recording, so it was kind of distracting. And I’m looking at her face to see if she is as upset as I am that the DJ is playing the wrong track because it should be the one with just the back-ups, and I see her still smiling and I say to myself, that’s the professional in her and the song fades and she settles back into her seat to let Gladys do her second song and give them guys in the back time to get their s_t right for her next song.
And there’s a little banter between them again. They talked about their ages, and when they had their children and who was older and how hard they worked at their craft and who was older… . And then it’s Gladys’s turn again and her voice oozes into her second song – again with live accompaniment and we are loving it. She’s not leaving her chair, but her voice is just like we remembered it. Then we heard the introductory bars for Patti’s next song and she begins to sing again – as does the voice on the recording. What the…? And because I hadn’t tuned in to any of the previous expositions, I began to wonder whether this was what everybody else had done. Patti leaves her seat to do a jig – because you can’t really stay seated for the theme song from Beverly Hills Cop and I’m moving too – but by this time my heart’s just not in it. And wouldn’t you know, pretty soon Gladys’s band packs up and leaves her to sing the rest of her set (including Midnight Train), to tracks as well. Clearly, Gladys knew she was well on the way to winning this thing, so she figured she’d make it a fair fight. I never did get to see and hear Dionne join them in That’s What Friends Are For.
The next day I scoured Instagram and social media in general for reviews of the show, thinking that a few people might have shared my disappointment at how the whole thing turned out. I found the many comments from the people who were falling all over themselves in the general feel-good stampede that pertained on the night of the event, but which were surprisingly absent the morning after – save for the comments about their class and grace and longevity in the business.
Which is all true. But if you ask me whether I enjoyed the ‘battle’? I might be in the minority here – but it’s a ‘No’ for me.