Diana Ross Verizon Wireless Theater March 1, 2011
See photos of the legendary Diana Ross in our slideshow.
Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.
Blame it on David Bowie, but Aftermath couldn't help thinking that while settling into our balcony seat at Verizon Tuesday. Diana Ross and her deluxe band were pounding out "I'm Comin' Out" and "More Today Than Yesterday" one after the other, barely allowing the audience (or the saxophone players) to pause for breath. From the moment she descended the Hollywood-style staircase, they were on the clock.
A little earlier, we were reflecting that Tuesday would be our first time to ever see one of the real legends of Motown live, not to mention '60s soul in general. Aretha ain't doing so well these days, and we'll be in Austin when Gladys Knight is here (dammit). See you at the Arena, Smokey.
As happy as we were that we could see Diana Ross, in the days leading up to the show we couldn't help but wonder if we really should. Why mess with a memory? Call it Chuck Berry syndrome. Those questions were laid to rest about halfway through "My World Is Empty Without You," the first in an extended string of hits by the "super-duper Supremes," as Ross put it.
Luckily, all those Supremes songs are designed for maximum impact in a minimum amount of time, punctuated by a couple of off-script hiccups - Ross exclaiming "Real horns!" after a tasty baritone solo in "Where Did Our Love Go?" and giggling in the middle of "Stop! In the Name of Love." Ross may not have the range she used to, but vocal acrobatics were never what she was about anyway, and Tuesday her voice fit her and the material like one of the five or six red-carpet gowns she twirled around in.
The band's professionalism was up top from the outset, all 12 of them - four horns, three backup singers, two drummers, keyboards, guitar and bass. It took Aftermath until much later in the set to realize how impeccably arranged these songs really are, down to the subtle call-and-response between the horns and backup vocalists, who had plenty of time to shine themselves during Ross' several wardrobe changes. (During which she kept singing, though... the lady is a pro.)
The Supremes mini-set crested with a samba interlude in "Love Child," which created a natural Cuban slide into the heavyweight Earth, Wind & Fire funk of "The Boss." So it went for the better part of an hour, through a lush "Love Hangover," smooth-jazz suite highlighted by the Anchorman flute of "Touch Me In the Morning," and spot-on Billie Holiday tribute of the Ellington-swinging "Fine and Mellow" and Harlem lullaby "Don't Explain."
Also, we hope the young lady (as in, like, 12) we saw dancing like a dervish to "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" downloads it from iTunes today. That's Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, dear.
Some of the set felt rushed, but it was the more forgettable parts like "9 to 5" carbon copy "Take Me Higher," and there was a lot of material to pack into 80 minutes. When Ross or the band needed to stretch out, they did, especially on the savory "Smooth Operator" tenor solo that prefaced "The Look of Love."
The important parts got their due, like all four or five rungs on the ladder of the intro of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." By the time she emerged clad like a spangly golden disco ball for finale "I Will Survive," Ross and her band were savoring the moment as much as the audience.
Then she came back out one more time, dressed in black, and asked the crowd if they had seen her talking about her kids on Oprah. We're guessing they did.
Ross apologized for her voice being gone - that's what she said, "gone" - and not only invited the backup singers down front to help her sing the tender title track to her 2007 album I Love You, but asked the sound man to turn up the band to compensate for her diminished vocals.
Now that's a diva.
Personal Bias: Glamazon Afro with the giant hoop earrings dancing all night in the balcony: Call me. Seriously, I missed "I Hear a Symphony," but that's about it.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I love her!" Also, "I love you!"
The Crowd: Motown meets Mix 96.5. Full, heavily female, dressed to the nines for a Tuesday. And one 36-year-old unshaven white dude (i.e. me).
Random Notebook Dump: Ross' last Top 10 hit was 1984's "Swept Away."
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I'm Comin' Out More Today Than Yesterday My World Is Empty Without You Where Did Our Love Go? Baby Love Stop! In the Name of Love You Can't Hurry Love Love Child The Boss Upside Down Touch Me In the Morning It's My House Love Hangover Take Me Higher Ease On Down the Road The Look of Love Fine and Mellow Don't Explain Why Do Fools Fall In Love? Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To?) Ain't No Mountain High Enough I Will Survive
I Love You