Music Review: Diana Ross Keeps Going

IMG_6215Nearly 60 years into her career, Diana Ross can still conjure up excitement by just flouncing onstage in an elaborate dress. At the first of two shows at the Music Center at Strathmore this week, she was also able to mostly reach those keening vocals that made her one of the leading female voices in pop.

Her exceedingly lean band (a trio augmented by all manner of unseen tracks), was also well into the choppy funk of “I’m Coming Out” while she was trying to do just that. We heard her voice before we glimpsed the excessive gown.

Once on stage, she presented the array of hits by The Supremes that cemented her fame more than a half century ago. And the best thing about hearing the timeless bounce of things like “My World is Empty Without You,” “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me” and “You Can’t Hurry Love,” is that she didn’t give short shrift to the songs in a medley, but presented pretty full versions of each one, just as they deserved.

And only 10 minutes into the show, it was already time for “Stop! In the Name of Love,” with the audience doing all the appropriate hand moves.

That’s the legacy of having so many hits, being able to reach those heights so early and just keep going.

Ross was returning to scattered dates after a summer off, she said, because of a broken ankle playing with a grandchild. Soon she’ll be back to Vegas for a residency where she honed this sleek, 80 minute act, that makes time for repeated costume changes though, at 74, that’s not quite necessary. She was proud of recent weight loss, though and pointing it out in her colorful gowns.

No longer the thin slip she was in the 60s, or when she starred in films like “Mahogany” or “Lady Sings the Blues,” she still strikes an iconic figure, thanks in part to signature explosion of hair that still doesn’t quit.

As much as she revved up the older crowd with the Supremes hits, she bowled them back with the pretty balladry of things like “Touch Me in the Morning.”

The later hits of her time in the Supremes, when she was suddenly taking top billing, were not as well represented but it was still good to hear the groundbreaking “Love Child.”

Perhaps her show was chronological, but she moved to later solo hits like the funk of “Upside Down” and the disco pinnacle of “Love Hangover.”

Her Vegas show is accommodating enough throw in unusual numbers, such as the lesser known Billie Holiday of “Don’t Explain.” Covers are part of her show now too, and while she missed half of “The Look of Love” due to a backstage zipper mishap amid another costume change, she did the version of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers’ eternal question “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” that was a chart hit for her about the time Judge Kavanaugh was in high school.

She had a shout out for her son Evan who is suddenly on the E! channel with a reality show with his wife, Ashlee Simpson, but never mentioned her Emmy-nominated older daughter Tracee Ellis Ross.

A more puzzling omission was noting the recent passing of Aretha Franklin, a sister of both time, place and an era of soul. It would have seemed natural to pay tribute to the fellow Detroiter.

Amid songs to represent her movies, she needn’t have picked “Ease on Down the Road” from “The Wiz,” her least successful outing (at least critically). But she did claim in a Q&A session during the encore that it was her favorite role.

The Q&A is part of the Vegas show as well, and she fit it in between her can’t miss version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (whose strength is its spoken word verses), and “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” for which she once went down in the audiences to orchestrate the love fest. This time around, either because of her advanced age or the divisive days, she skipped that altogether.

The setlist for Diana Ross Tuesday was:

  • “I’m Coming Out”
  • “My World is Empty Without You”
  • “Baby Love”
  • “Stop! In the Name of Love”
  • “Come See About Me”
  • “You Can’t Hurry Love”
  • “Touch Me In the Morning”
  • “Love Child”
  • “The Boss”
  • “It’s My House”
  • “Upside Down”
  • “Love Hangover” / “Take Me Higher”
  • “Ease On Down the Road”
  • “The Look of Love”
  • “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”
  • “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)”
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