Diana Ross Live: “Shining Moments” In Concert

Diana Ross I Love You Tour

Just one week from today (Saturday, September 7th, to be exact), Diana Ross will take the stage at the Chastain Park Amphitheatre in Atlanta, part of the 2013 Live Nation Concert Series.  Currently crisscrossing North America on a breathlessly paced tour, Miss Ross is once again garnering rave reviews for her stage show; after her recent stop in Milwaukee, writer Piet Levy of the Journal Sentinel commented, “…to call the show nostalgic is almost belittling. Nostalgia acts, on the road as long as Ross has been doing it, so often burn dimly off the vapors of faded memories. They’re sad ghosts of the glory days. But Ross’ show had a pulse, a magic that made it alive in the moment, even as it was saluting the past.”

Indeed, with no new material to promote (her last studio album was 2007’s I Love You), Diana Ross’s current tour truly is a celebration of her storied career, dedicated to the numerous classic songs she’s made famous since her initial chart-toppers in the 1960s.  And without any new songs or major surprises in the setlist to focus on, it’s also an opportunity for fans to re-live their own memories seeing the diva over the years.  There are fans — many of whom are frequent commenters right here — who have seen Diana Ross in concert so many times they’ve lost count.  There are those with incredible stories of being pulled up onstage, getting a peak backstage, and even sharing a moment or two with the singer outside the venue.  At its best, for the fans who’ve stuck by her through it all, a Diana Ross concert is more than a performance.  It’s a total experience.

And so, a week before this writer’s next Diana Ross experience, it’s time to re-live a few of my favorite moments from Diana Ross concerts.  This will be the fifth time I’ve seen Miss Ross live, and the first since her I Love You tour in ’07.  The first was in 1995, just weeks before her Motown CD Take Me Higher hit shelves.  I was such a vocal Diana Ross fan that kids I barely even knew at school were bringing me the newspaper advertisements about her appearance near Indianapolis.  My poor parents were forced to skip a few hours of work to buy me tickets.  The night of the show, I was shaking.  When she appeared on stage, I temporarily lost the ability to breathe.  It’s something that just might happen again in a few days.

***

1)  Reach Out, I’ll Be There (Return To Love tour):  There were plenty of surprises for fans the night of June 25, 2000, as Diana Ross and The Supremes hit the stage at the National Car Rental Center in Sunrise, Florida.  Complete performances of songs like “Forever Came Today” and “In And Out Of Love” were totally unexpected, and solo performances by 70s Supremes Lynda Laurence (on “Up The Ladder To The Roof”) and Scherrie Payne (“Stoned Love”) were fantastic and immediate audience favorites.  The fact that the three women — amidst a ridiculous amount of controversy over the authenticity of the “reunion” — looked and sounded so great was perhaps a surprise to some, too.  But the clear highlight of the night was the group’s final song, a soulful and redemptive version of Diana’s 1971 single “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” from her brilliant but often-overlooked Surrender LP.  The song is one of the great highlights of the Ross solo discography, a sexy and ultimately soaring re-working of the more familiar Four Tops version; it wasn’t a major hit for Ross, and therefore isn’t one she kept in her act over the years.  Here, however, she brilliantly chose it to close the show, using the gorgeous voices of Laurence and Payne to replace the original Ashford and Simpson gospel-ish backgrounds.  Diana’s voice was strong and controlled during the song’s sultry, spare opening; though she’d been pushing her voice to the limit for the entire show, her sparkling soprano rang out like a bell during lines like, “And through your tears…you look around…”  The song’s emotional climax gave her a chance to do some belting, which to my ears sounded dead-on and incredibly powerful, especially when bolstered by the spine-tingling support offered by the Supremes.  As the three women ascended a large staircase, exiting the stage, it was a powerful and memorable moment, and a perfect close to an exciting night of music.

Diana Ross Supremes Return To Love Tour

2) Don’t Explain (I Love You tour):  Diana’s emotional rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” was a highlight of the 1972 Lady Sings The Blues soundtrack, and it’s a song the singer and actress clearly loves; it is now one of the few jazz numbers she consistently performs in concert, and it’s always a vocal showcase for the singer during her stage shows.  On the evening of April 24, 2007 — during a tour stop at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando, Florida — Miss Ross offered up a deeply felt reading of the song, one that left the entire audience completely silent.  Miss Ross had delivered a high-energy show that night, opening (of course) with “I’m Coming Out” and running through crowd-pleasing uptempo numbers like “The Boss,” “Upside Down,” and even “Ease On Down The Road.”  The atmosphere was party-like in the relatively intimate Hard Rock Live, but Diana’s entrance with the trademark flower in her ear (her nod to Billie Holiday) signaled a shift in tone.  Her band — phenomenal as always — offered up beautiful, morose backing as Diana began to sing the familiar opening, “Hush now…Don’t Explain…”  Her voice, slightly ragged after belting out so many hits, was instantly restored to the warm, smooth tones expected of her when she sings jazz tunes; the crystal-clear delivery communicated exactly what the lyrics don’t say, revealing a woman resigned to her own love-addiction.  The audience — standing for much of the show — sat during this one, and it was so quiet Diana could have been alone in the theatre.  My good friend next to me turned and whispered, “What a voice!”  Indeed.

3)  Take Me Higher (Always Is Forever/Take Me Higher tour):  “For nearly two hours she strutted her stuff, danced and slipped into one sequined gown after another.  The first was a minidress that was as hot as her entry song, ‘Take Me Higher.'”  So wrote Sally Falk Nancrede in The Indianapolis Star following Diana’s performance at Indiana’s Deer Creek Music Center on August 30, 1995.  The show that night was filled with tracks from her then-forthcoming CD, including “Voice Of The Heart,” “Only Love Will Conquer All,” “Don’t Stop,” and “I Will Survive” (the singer, by the way, used “Only Love…” as a chance to walk into the audience, much to its delight).  The new tracks sounded incredibly fresh and exciting, and the singer performed with the kind of energy usually displayed by a newcomer.  This was especially true during the opening, as she bounded down a large staircase on stage (something re-created for the “Take Me Higher” music video) in her short black dress and mass of bouncing curls.  Though the single hadn’t been released yet, it was an obvious choice to open the show; the catchy song (which would eventually hit #1 on the dance chart) had the audience on its feet, and is memorable enough that many in the audience were singing along by the end.  Diana’s talented band and background singers sounded particularly strong on this track, and the entire crew would keep the pace of the show brisk and vibrant.  Diana had every reason to feel optimistic during the show, performing some of the best new material she’d recorded in years.  (And — sidenote — the show proved quite amusing later in the night when the abundance of bugs started really bothering Miss Ross.  At one point, she had to cover herself with bug repellant lotion — right onstage!  As noted in the newspaper review, “She couldn’t finish ‘Good Morning Heartache,’ but she won over the audience as a trade-off.”)

Diana Ross Take Me Higher Tour

4)  Amazing Grace (I Love You tour):  Diana Ross closed her April 25, 2007 concert at the King Center For The Performing Arts in Melbourne, Florida with a song that wasn’t a hit for her; in fact, it’s a song that was never even released as a single.  Her final performance of the night was an incredible, a capella reading of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” a song she’s performed numerous times and that was committed to record on 1993’s Christmas In ViennaThe occasion was the presence of her friend Pastor Wintley Phipps, a man who’d sung at her 1986 wedding to Arne Naess and wrote her 1987 single “Tell Me Again,” featured on the LP Red Hot Rhythm & Blues.  Phipps serves at the nearby Palm Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church, so it made sense for him to be in the audience.  Once introduced, the pastor joined Miss Ross onstage and the two sang the song together, a striking duet in which her velvet voice and his booming baritone meshed perfectly.  It was a moving, haunting moment — definitive proof of Miss Ross’s interpretive gift and an unexpected treat for fans expecting nothing more than a night of greatest hits.

***

I can’t wait to add another memory to this list — if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that there will be at least one moment from Diana’s upcoming Atlanta concert that will stick with me forever.  But, until then, I want to hear your stories.  What “shining moments” from Diana Ross concerts have stuck with you?

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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4 Responses to Diana Ross Live: “Shining Moments” In Concert

  1. Paul, this is a great change of pace from analyzing recorded and documented performances. For this Shining Moment we can share recollections of the many concerts Diana has given in between the televised and YouTubed ones and expand our appreciation of Diana’s gift as an entertainer. I will share some of my favorites from my first Diana concert to the most recent. They are not necessarily examples of what I consider my favorite songs or her best performances of the songs but rather special personal experiences for me. I offer:

    1. “Say We Can” (Radio City, June 1989) The concert that began it all for me. I am in the minority as I love “Workin’ Overtime” and this is the best song of the album. She sounded funky and soulful on this one and, of course, never sang it live again.

    2. “You’re Gonna Love It” (Radio City, September 1991)The coolest song on an album that I liked at the time but that no longer appeals to me. She changed into a beautiful purple gown for just this song.

    3. “I Thought We Were Still In Love” (Garden State Arts Center, NJ, 1995) A great jazzy ballad that did not last in her act. She sat on the edge of the stage and sang so honestly and plaintively I thought she was telling the audience she was getting a divorce. Her storytelling skills were incredibly strong on this.

    4. “Take Me Higher” (Woodbury Music Fair, Long Island, NY, 1997) A very energetic concert overall and 2 years into the TMH promotion (I saw 4 shows over the course of 2+ years!). She opened with this, bounding onstage in a clingy tomato red silk jersey spaghetti strap gown. It’s rare to see Diana on stage in anything other than sequins, lace or tulle (or, during that period, various iterations of the orange pantsuit) and this dress looked youthful and cool.

    5. “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” (Madison Square Garden, 2000) I picked up on it after the first few bars. My friend and I turned to each other, completely dumbfounded. It came out of nowhere, she sounded as good as on the record and I will forever wonder how she decided to sing it. It’s the biggest surprise I’ve ever experienced at one of her concerts.

    6. “The Boss” (Englewood, NJ, 2011)I finally got to hear Diana sing “The Boss” live the year before at Radio City when she started her still current tour. But she sounded better at this show, maybe because rather than opening with it she saved it till she was warmed up. It was a far cry from her 1979 and 1980 vocals–no yodel–but she was good!

    7. “Don’t Explain” (Englewood, NJ, 2011) I’d have paid just to hear this song. She found more to communicate here than in any other live performance I’d ever heard. Her glides and emphases are considerably different from other performances. I wonder what she considers or feels to lead to these colorations.

    I look forward to reading other fans’ favorites.

  2. theqhblend says:

    When I saw her two years ago, I’d had gotten slightly ill the day before. But I was determined to see her & thankfully her show restored my health lol. I was taken by her blues segment of the show the most, but it was great to hear her do TMH, a firm favorite of mine. Let me know how the show goes. Have fun!-QH

  3. Hey Paul – nice idea for a post.

    As Sade once said it’s ‘never as good as the first time’ – and I have to agree when it comes to seeing someone in concert (with the odd exception). Certainly for me my first Diana show – waaay way back in 1984 (I’ve just scared myself by calculating that’s nearly 3 decades ago – ouch) for the ‘Swept Away’ tour (I think it was called that) in Birmingham UK.

    For one, I’d never seen anyone in concert before, let along an arena. Diana performed in ‘the round’ as I later discovered she often would. I had no real expectations as I’ve never seen any footage of her live, maybe a few videos only at the time – so I was blown away by her singing ‘I’m Coming Out’ off stage doing her running thru the crowd to stage routine. She was in fine voice that night and looked a million bucks (I particularly recall some intensely sequinned silver gown that refracted the spotlight wildly). All the usual Diana concert staples were present and correct but seeing them for the very first time, live and with Diana in peak form was incredible.

    A couple of songs I remember that were specific that tour – ‘Swept Away’ which she plain tour up – and less obvious ‘Telephone’. The live arrangement really breathed new life into that song for me (I was a bit ‘whatev’ about it before) but as you can imagine she really got inside the seductive groove of it and sold the lyric. I remember when she sang the ‘lean on me and I’ll be your friend’ line she did a little shoulder roll and lean back movement. Just a cute little move that somehow, even all these years later, springs to mind whenever I hear the song.

  4. Mark Fletcher says:

    Hi Paul ! One of my favourite memories of Miss Ross in concert is from a few Summers back when Diana performed in the gardens of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire… It was a magical setting, only slightly spoiled by the Summer Drizzle which got heavier as the concert progressed … Trouper that she is, Ms Ross braved the elements ( this was NOTHING compared to the Central Park Gig ) and at one point – as the rain began to fall more heavily – she called for her P.A. in the wings to bring her a wrap so that she could carry on singing.
    The first ‘wrap’ to be brought out to her was made entirely of feathers ( not a good wet weather option ), and the second seemed to spun from cobwebs and diamonds.
    The crowd was soaked to the skin by now but we had barely noticed the rain as we were afforded just a glimpse of ” The Diva ” that we had so often read about !
    Finally – and rather wittily – a member of the audience threw on to the stage a bright yellow plastic ‘kagool’ ! Ms Ross very carefully picked it up and then held it at arms length whilst she gave the matter some thought ! I’m not sure that she recognised it as an item of clothing ?
    Just when it looked as if she may pop it on, the Day was saved by the frantic P.A. running on to the stage with something suitably luxurious for Diana to drape around her gorgeous self !

    A cliché, I know, but….. They just don’t make ’em like THAT anymore !

    Thanks for your posts, Paul ! X

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