There’s just something that feels so right about Diana Ross performing in an outdoor setting. Maybe it’s because so many of her songs reference nature, from the sunny day of “Remember Me” to the raging storm of “Swept Away.” Maybe it’s because her hair and costumes seem tailor-made to dramatically whip around in the wind. And perhaps it’s because one of the most iconic images of the singer is from her 1983 concert in Central Park, when she became drenched in rain while belting out the majestic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Whatever the reason, the setting for the legend’s Friday night concert at the open-air Chastain Park Amphitheatre in Atlanta was perfect, and thankfully the weather gods decided not to opt for a repeat of that famous New York event. Taking the stage shortly after eight o’clock, Diana Ross delivered her hit-packed show to a loud and boisterous crowd, condensing her fifty-year career down to a brisk “Greatest Hits” revue. And although the sun set on a warm and dry day during the roughly ninety-minute show, the singer’s obvious joy and youthful energy proved the dusk of her performing career is still far, far away.
Opening with her 1980 hit “I’m Coming Out” and then quickly segueing into her more recent cover of “More Today Than Yesterday,” Miss Ross immediately proved she still has the unique tone and range that made her voice one of the most successful in music history. While performing a selection of Supremes hits, the singer’s voice sounded surprisingly young (her crisp delivery on “Stop! In The Name Of Love” was nearly identical to the original vocal – recorded half a century ago!), and the high notes at the end of “Love Child” were pitch-perfect. That said, the concert was somewhat plagued with what seemed to be a sub-par sound system; there were songs on which the vocals sounded way over-modulated, and there was at least one instance of screeching feedback.
Nonetheless, Miss Ross plowed through with a smooth and sexy version of “Touch Me In The Morning” and energetic takes on dance hits “The Boss” and “Take Me Higher.” A highlight was one of the best live performances of “Upside Down” I’ve heard in years, which brought just about every member of the audience to his or her feet; fans danced wildly in the aisles and the singer even allowed a fan onstage for a very funny few moments of mugging to the crowd. As always, credit must be given to the singer’s wonderful band and backing singers, who seem to feed off of both Diana’s and the audience’s energy, and particularly brought the house down during an extended version of “Ease On Down The Road” from Diana’s 1978 film The Wiz.
In recent years, the highlight of a Diana Ross concert is always her take on the Billie Holliday classic “Don’t Explain,” and the singer certainly did justice to the song. However, she also seemed particularly reinvigorated while performing a cover of “The Look Of Love” – never a favorite of mine – and it was easily one of her best vocals of the night. She also absolutely killed “Theme From Mahogany” – a song that often seems rushed when sung live and nowhere near as dreamy as it does on the original recording. On the stage at Chastain, Diana really let the song breathe, allowing it to slowly build until it finally transitioned into “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” This is probably the best I’ve ever heard the singer deliver the Mahogany theme in a live setting.
And this brings us to the climax of the concert, during which Diana Ross seemed to let loose in a way she hasn’t onstage in a long time. After the triumphant performance of her first solo #1 hit (turning 45 years old this year!), with the singer nailing her ad-libs and her voice lifting the entire audience to its feet, she and her band launched into “I Will Survive,” boasting a strong vocal and then a surprising interpolation of the 2010 hit “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled. “I love this song!” the singer announced, as she and her band delivered the lyrics, “All I do is win, win, win” in unison. Considering her setlist has seen very few changes in the past decade or so (it’s the same lineup of songs as the last time Miss Ross performed in Atlanta, in 2013), the inclusion of such a modern cover was welcome and exciting. Diana resurrected the song again (telling the band “Play ‘Win, Win, Win’ again!”) after her encore of “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand).” It certainly seemed like the singer didn’t want to leave the stage, and it was obvious the crowd didn’t want her to, either.
Ending the concert on this interesting mix of a modern hit and a classic one seemed to send a strong message to everyone there — Diana Ross remains as relevant and skillful a performer as she has been for the past several decades. Even though this concert was essentially the same one the singer gave in the same venue two years earlier, it was easily a more energetic show (despite the sound issues); not only did the singer seem revitalized, so did the audience.
Even with all the stars in the spectacularly clear Atlanta sky, the one onstage shined brightest.
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. Love Child
8. The Boss
9. Touch Me In The Morning
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/All I Do Is Win
20. Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)
21. I Will Survive/All I Do Is Win