“I’m gonna sweat my eyelashes off!”
“It’s My House,” purred Diana Ross to a roaring crowd in West Palm Beach Saturday night (June 24), and truer words have never been sung. During a dazzling tour stop at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, ably supported by her singer-songwriter daughter Rhonda Ross, the legendary entertainer commanded the audience from her very first number (“I’m Coming Out,” of course), taking fans on an energetic ride through several decades of hits.
The evening began with a dynamic set by Rhonda Ross, an accomplished performer in her own right whose career includes an Emmy-nominated performance on the daytime soap “Another World.” Ross boasts a confident stage presence and crisp, melodic voice that’s both reminiscent of neo-soul singers including Erykah Badu and Amel Larrieux and evocative of jazz legends like Dinah Washington. Rhonda Ross promised the crowd a bit of her “flavor” and more than delivered, running through a set of mainly original songs including the hopeful “Summer Day” and deliciously funky “Nobody’s Business.” Highlights were her sizzling rendition of “You’re All I Need To Get By,” a nice nod to her own Motown roots (Diana Ross included the song on her 1970 solo debut), and the bouncy “All I Want,” on which her fantastic band and background singers really jammed. Rhonda Ross has a new album out, titled In Case You Didn’t Know (you can buy it here), and it’s safe to say the packed house at the Kravis Center now knows that Ross is the real deal, an energetic performer with a strong voice and something to say.
And then, in a slickly choreographed transition, the headliner took the stage, her band building excitement until that iconic voice announced, “I’m Coming Out!” Diana Ross took the stage in a sparkling seafoam ensemble befitting a mermaid, her voice impossibly fresh as she delivered her anthemic 1980 hit and then segued into “More Today Then Yesterday” from her last studio album, 2007’s I Love You. Miss Ross then reached back into her canon to her days with The Supremes, running through early hits including “Baby Love,” “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” and “Come See About Me,” all of which she performed as complete numbers (rather than combining them into a medley). “Come See About Me” was an especially welcome offering, since it’s not one she always includes in her shows; she worked beautifully with her wonderful background singers on the song, recreating the call-and-response structure of the original 1964 recording. It’s astonishing that more than 50 years after taking these songs to the top of the charts, Diana Ross still sings them with the same youth and vivacity; the clarity and urgency of her tone remains unchanged, and brings the classic songs to life in a way nobody else can.
After a brief costume change, the singer returned to the stage in a stunning red ensemble with feathered hood, breezing through several of her solo hits from the 1970s including “The Boss,” “Love Hangover,” and “Ease On Down The Road.” She paused to dab her face with Kleenex (with the very funny aside to the audience that she was going to “sweat my eyelashes off!”) and turned the stately theatre into a club with her #1 hit “Upside Down,” insisting on the house lights being brought up so she could watch the crowd dance. And dance they did; the Kravis Center is a large auditorium with a balcony that stretches several stories high, but even fans in the very last row were grooving in the aisles, waving around glow sticks and following the singer’s command to have a party. A highlight of this set was the 1979 R&B classic “It’s My House,” a song the singer hasn’t always included in her show; she sexily grooved to the music and brought the song to life with a fun, breathy delivery that sounded nearly identical to that featured on the original studio recording.
The concert’s third “set” began with “The Look Of Love” and continued with a tribute to her 1972 film Lady Sings The Blues, consisting of a beautiful reading of the jazz classic “Don’t Explain.” This song is always a standout of Diana Ross concerts, a chance for fans to really bask in the velvety quality of the singer’s voice. Once again, Ross proved that she is a master of jazz and blues singing, her silken voice sliding up and down the scale with precision and slightly lagging behind the beat in a languid tribute to Billie Holiday, the legendary singer she portrayed in her Oscar-nominated debut film. Miss Ross also took the time to generously introduce each member of her band and her background singers, the talented musicians clearly enjoying their time onstage with the Motown diva.
Finally, Diana Ross returned to the stage in a glittering white gown to begin the final segment of the night, beginning with her 1975 #1 hit “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” which, as fans know, means “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” isn’t far behind. “Ain’t No Mountain…” has been the singer’s anthem since 1970; it is one of the great pop recordings of all time, and remains a breathtaking epic. Ross whipped the crowd into a frenzy with a transcendent reading as fresh and exciting as her earliest televised performances of the song. When Diana Ross says, “If you need me, call me…” she sounds like she really means it; this kind of authenticity is the key to the singer’s success and longevity, and her fans more than responded, rushing to the stage and crowding the aisles in a way that likely doesn’t always happen inside the ornate theatre. After a brief exit, Miss Ross reappeared for an encore, singing her dance hit “I Will Survive” from 1995’s Take Me Higher; Rhonda even joined her for a few lines, giving her mother a chance to hug her tightly and proudly tell the audience, “That’s my baby!”
It would be impossible for Diana Ross to sing every one of her hit songs in a single show; her 18 #1 hits would fill a setlist on their own, and that would leave out classics that missed the top spot, like “I’m Coming Out” and “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.” The twenty songs that made up this show were deftly arranged to hit all the highlights, reminding casual fans of the various phases of the singer’s career, from 1960s Motown Diva to 1970s Dance Queen to Oscar-nominated movie actress and beyond. As a die-hard fan and lifelong student of her work, it would be nice to near some Ross rarities in concert; the RCA years certainly seem overlooked, and there are certain selections from classic albums like Baby It’s Me that would likely sound better than ever (just imagine “Confide In Me” sung with the maturity and wisdom she now possesses).
But Diana Ross isn’t building her stage show for fans who know every outtake still resting in the Motown vaults; she’s there to take us on a brisk journey through the best moments of our lives, using songs that remain touchstones for generations of listeners. And although she could easily coast on the strength of those recognizable songs alone, she doesn’t; Miss Ross clearly puts real effort into her shows, from the colorful costumes to acknowledging her band to her constant demands for the house lights to turn up, so she can see her fans. She wants us to have a good time; as she sings onstage, “Everything you see is with love and care.” Her house was built for love, indeed.
- I’m Coming Out
- More Today Than Yesterday
- Baby Love
- Stop! In The Name Of Love
- Come See About Me
- You Can’t Hurry Love
- Love Child
- The Boss
- Touch Me In The Morning
- 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
- Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
- I Will Survive