In recent years, Diana Ross has clearly favored brisk, energetic live shows loaded with hits but light on interaction. The woman who once breezed through two-hour-plus extravaganzas now typically takes the stage for about an hour and a half, not that this is surprising. She is, after all, a much-matured grandmother and a true entertainment legend; the singer probably doesn’t feel like she has much to prove and, quite honestly, doesn’t. Her current song-after-song-after-song style has replaced the slick productions where the “classic” Diana offered up humorous, off-the-cuff moments and heartfelt monologues. That said, even in a breathless 90 minutes, today’s Diana Ross still sparkles with verve, personality, and complete authenticity.
The singer’s latest stop at Atlanta’s Chastain Park Amphitheatre (part of the venue’s 2013 Live Nation Concert Series) easily featured some of the diva’s best vocals in years — not to mention a few funny and unexpected moments reminiscent of those earlier concerts. The show, which began promptly at 8:00pm, didn’t offer any major setlist surprises; hearing her sing “Take Me Higher” and “The Look Of Love” were perhaps the only “rarities” of the night. But Miss Ross did inject her familiar standards with a surprising vitality; her full versions of Supremes hits “Stop! In The Name Of Love” and “My World Is Empty Without You” were as fresh and youthful as when they were recorded nearly five decades ago.
Early in the show, during her run of Supremes hits, Miss Ross broke to address the heat. “We’re getting hot and sassy up here,” she exclaimed, fanning herself with her hands and, later, with an actual fan brought out from backstage. The singer also stopped to address the multitude of cell phones in the crowd; to one patron up front, she jokingly asked, “Are you texting?” before posing for the person’s camera. These early, playful moments suggest she was truly enjoying the show; this was also indicated by the fact that she relied far less on posing and aiming the microphone at the audience and more on actually singing. Her “Touch Me In The Morning” was smooth and sultry, performed to the light jazz arrangement she used at the VH1 Divas 2000: A Tribute To Diana Ross special, and “Love Child” was an energetic showcase for not only the singer, but also the stellar horn section and talented trio of backing singers.
During what could be called the show’s “second act,” the singer quickly ran through some of her biggest dance hits, bouncing from “The Boss” to “Upside Down” to her 1995 #1 dance single, “Take Me Higher.” Sounding strong on each, the singer shimmied in her sparkling blue dress and ordered the crowd to stand up and dance. The next “act,” however, would prove to be the standout section of the night. Returning to the stage with a sexy and slow version of “The Look Of Love,” Diana then dug into “Don’t Explain,” a song from her 1972 film and soundtrack album Lady Sings The Blues. The song has been a standout in her stage show for years, and this was no exception; her controlled, expertly pitched vocal performance here was almost the best of the night. Using her voice truly as an instrument, Miss Ross telegraphed a mournful resignation to the audience purely through her tone, suggesting an entire story behind the poignant lyrics. The crowd responded with complete silence, and erupted into thunderous applause when she finished the final note.
Diana’s rendition of Theme From Mahogany (during her “fourth act”) was also a standout, the sweetness and warmth in her voice almost breathtaking coming after more than an hour of singing. The song, of course, led into her anthem and first solo #1 hit, 1970’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” during which the singer reached for some particularly full-bodied ad-libs reminiscent of her original reading of the song. The other song she’s adopted as an anthem, “I Will Survive,” followed, bringing the crowd to its feet and again featuring some impressive belting and exciting ad-libs. After leaving the stage once, the singer returned with an encore of the song, allowing each of her background singers a chance to take center stage for a few lines.
And then…the real highlight of the night occurred. The stage darkened, and the crowd continued cheering. The singers and band exited…and the crowd continued cheering. Finally, after a long and confusing interlude, the house lights came up. Convinced the show was over, many in the audience began filing out. And then, in her black leotard and sweatshirt, Miss Ross reappeared. The audience literally went wild, and the singer exclaimed, “This is called keepin’ it real!” and then “I can’t sing like this!” as an assistant ran back onstage with a far more glamorous orange wrap. Diana then took time to really talk to the audience, speaking from the heart about her love of performing and looking into the faces of her fans. And finally, she resurrected her debut solo single, belting out an astounding, redemptive version of “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand).” This was truly a spell-binding moment; without asking, the audience grasped hands and held them high in the air. If there was any doubt about Diana’s continued ability to command a crowd, this moment alone killed it.
On a personal note, I’ve seen Diana Ross live in concert five times now. Each has been a special and unique experience; each carries specific memories and came during a different chapter in my own life. But in the interest of being as impartial and objective as possible — which I’ve always strived to be here on The Diana Ross Project — this truly was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. Diana Ross is in a very good place; this is obvious from the way she carried herself and performed her hits. She’s also in a very good place vocally; every single moment of the show was live, and she didn’t hit a false note once. My partner called the show a “life-changing experience” — and this is from someone who’s merely been a casual fan for years. For someone who’s spent a lifetime listening to (and nearly two years studying) her entire recording output? Well, let’s just say The Diana Ross Project seems more relevant to me than ever before.
1. I’m Coming Out
2. More Today Than Yesterday
3. My World Is Empty Without You
4. Baby Love
5. Stop! In The Name Of Love
6. You Can’t Hurry Love
7. Touch Me In The Morning
8. Love Child
9. The Boss
10. Upside Down
11. Love Hangover
12. Take Me Higher
13. Ease On Down The Road
14. The Look Of Love
15. Don’t Explain
16. Why Do Fools Fall In Love
17. Theme From Mahogany
18. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
19. I Will Survive
20. Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)