May 27, 2010 | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Miss Ross 'The Boss'

Tuesday night provided a rare opportunity to see and hear Diana Ross in concert as she brought her “More Today Than Yesterday” tour to the Strathmore in Bethesda, Md. Ross shimmied and sang her way through a deliciously well-paced 22-song, 90-minute set that found her darting around to all corners of her vast discography with several wonderfully unexpected results.

There’s so much mythology surrounding Ross, it lent the evening a rather surreal air. From her earliest days with the Supremes, Ross has always been flamboyant and over the top. And Motown, now having reached the 50-year mark, is engulfed in its own mythology. Ross, one of its biggest stars — some would say its biggest of all — carries with her a sort of pop culture immortality that’s aided by the fact that the woman, save for an ever-so-slightly fuller face, appears only to have aged about five or eight years in the last 30. She looks and sounds astoundingly good, her long-underrated vocals as lustrous and elastic as they were in the ’60s and ’70s.

It would be stretching things to call this tour a comeback. She only did one album in the ’00s, a covers project at that, and rarely shows up in public except to accept a Kennedy Center Honor or something like it. She has toured intermittently in the last few years but last night seemed more focused, better planned than reports indicated her other recent outings have been.

Working with a tight, though at times overpowering, 18-piece band that included a four-member horn section and five-piece string ensemble, Ross looked confident and seemed to genuinely enjoy the adulation the apparently sold-out crowd, comprised of many gays, lavished on her. Now 25 years removed from former fellow Supreme Mary Wilson’s unflattering memoir and with her D.U.I. arrest nearly a decade behind her, Ross seems rejuvenated, looking ahead and eager to remind us why we loved her in the first place — she’s a great singer with a staggering collection of hits, the majority of which have proved timeless.

The singer has been varying her set list from night to night this time out so Tuesday’s show had a wonderfully unexpected feel to it. Refreshingly, she’s ditched her decades-long tradition of throwing mere snippets of Supremes songs together into one mega medley and instead has returned to performing several alone in their entirety. That means, of course, there’s no way to touch on everything (“Baby Love,” “Come See About Me” and “I Hear a Symphony” were noticeable absences), but I was thrilled to hear full renditions of “Reflections,” “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Stop in the Name of Love,” clearly the biggest crowd pleaser in which the entire audience joined along in the famous choreography. “Love Child” retained its status as a game changer. A creative departure upon its release in 1968, it again broke new ground last night. Though nobody bats an eye today at a child born out of wedlock, the players breathed new life into the cut with a fiery salsa makeover, most pronounced during an extended jam outro during which Miss Ross changed gowns.

Other standouts included a dance medley featuring “Love Hangover” and “Take Me Higher,” a stunning rendition of “Endless Love,” a lovely — and highly unexpected — rendition of “It’s Hard for Me to Say,” a deep album cut from her RCA years during which, ironically, she showed slides of her fabled Motown cohorts which were poignantly presented. Earlier, during one of the Supremes numbers, Ross showed tons of footage and photos of her with Mary and Flo, her former teammates, indicating, perhaps, that the years have softened some of the bruised egos and hurt feelings of their notoriously thorny collaboration.

The evening wasn’t perfect. The concert opened with an unfathomably muddy sound mix that found Ross’s vocals so buried, you could barely tell what song she was singing. It improved gradually as the evening wore on but the band/Ross balance was never quite right. It’s a problem that, according to reviews, has plagued the tour on other stops. Ross even stopped in the middle of one early number to confer offstage with someone while the band played on. And there were a few points that seemed slightly half-hearted. It was hard to tell if Ross was merely improvising jam-style or was covering for a few forgotten lines, but could-have-been showstoppers like “Touch Me in the Morning” and “Do You Know Where You’re Doing To” featured odd lulls and lapses that shot their momentum. Both have fiery bridges I hated to see her shrug through. She made up for it, though, with a magnificent rendition of her trademark anthem “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the climax of which was as glorious as I’ve ever heard her sing it.

The evening’s loveliest moments came during a jazz set that featured Dusty Springfield’s “The Look of Love” (which Ross has recorded) and two songs from “Lady Sings the Blues.” The unexpected “Don’t Explain,” which Ross sing over just a minimalist jazz combo, was exquisite, her vocals, finally, in the full spotlight.

And even with the sound mix problems, it was obvious Ross is in fine voice. Much ballyhoo was made of then up-and-comer Whitney Houston invading Miss Ross’s turf in the 1980s. Houston, in her prime, could out-sing Ross but still it’s rather sad now to hear reports of Houston wheezing and gasping through raspy, croaky renditions on her current overseas tour while Ross, who quit smoking decades ago, sounds as lovely and rich as she ever did.

SET LIST:

* Band overture

1. The Boss

2. Every Day is a New Day

3. Reflections

4. You Can’t Hurry Love

5. Stop in the Name of Love

6. It’s Hard For Me to Say

7. Love Child

8. Medley: I’m Coming Out/Upside Down

9. Touch Me in the Morning

10. It’s My House

11. Medley: Love Hangover/Take Me Higher

12. Ease on Down the Road

13. The Look of Love

14. Fine and Mellow

15. Don’t Explain

16. Why Do Fools Fall in Love

17. Endless Love

18. Do You Know Where You’re Going To

19. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

20. I Will Survive

ENCORE

* band intros

21. Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)

22. I Love You (That’s All That Really Matters) (excerpt)

* band jam outro

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

24 Comments
  • A critical review that is objective and valuable to read. It critiques her voice, choice of material and her enduring work ethic. No bitchiness or Queany demeanor; just a fine review that tells it like it was and gives credit where it is due: she endures because she has talent and discipline…two thing sorely lacking today…which is why Whitney never succeded. Yes she could outsing Diana but there are others who could outsing Whitney…having a beautiful voice is one thing, but, having the talent to know how to use it is another…and Diana Ross still knows how to use it.

    • All I got to say about your review, RIGHT ON!
      (Yes, I’m a old school soul sister like my sparkling girl Miss Ross!)

    • Take Me Higher

      Thanks so much for this well considered review, one of the best I’ve ever read about Diana Ross! I was there that evening, and was truly thrilled with this performance! I have tried to assemble the set list, but, thanks to this review, it has been done for me! (I have only one correction -forgive me-the second song was not “Every day” but “More Today Than Yesterday”)..Thanks again for this review which so well helps to revive the memory of this wonferful experience.

    • Nice review, but Diana never smoked, and the assertion that her previous tours of the last 10 years were not well planned according to “reports”, is a falsehood. All of Diana’s tours of the last 10 years have received excellent reviews, as does this one.

      • Joey DiGuglielmo

        Thanks for the correction, Take Me Higher. And Mic, yes, Diane did smoke all through the ’60s and into the ’70s. There are many photos of her smoking and most people smoked back in those days.

  • (Sorry meant for this to be a comment pertaining to the original review/article).

    All I got to say about your review, RIGHT ON!
    (Yes, I’m a old school soul sister like my sparkling girl Miss Ross!)

  • Great review!!!! Ihad the pleasure of seeing MISS. DIANA ROSS at Radio City Music Hall last week and she was as always simply AMAZING!!!!!!!!! For me no other diva comes before her many have come and gone and are truely gifted,but only MISS. ROSS reins supreme the way only she can!!!!!!!!! Very cool comment FloyJoy!!

  • A review with honesty and integrity. Don’t expect to find that today. Just not sure how Whitney popped up at the end. But in that regard, surely there is something beyond voice critique that intrigues us about popular music. Pop music is about raw talent, not technical perfection. When you see raw talent, you just know it. Diana Ross has raw talent.

  • Decent review, but there are major errors in it. Ross’ tours have always garnered excellent reviews, and only an occasional so, so one. So your assertion that her recent tours had been reported to be flawed is just not true.

    • Joey DiGuglielmo

      I didn’t say her recent tours have been flawed, Mic. I just said this one seemed better planned. More promotion, tighter band, hitting more cities, that sort of thing. Just seems she and her management team are putting a bit more thought into this outing. I’m sure her other recent concerts have been wonderful. Just a personal impression, so your “major error” remark is unjustified.

  • Great And honest review. Thanks for acknowledging the fact that The Boss didn’t truly get her props until The Kennedy Center Honors. She has a trunk filled of international honors including The Arts and Letters designation from France and A Lifetime Achievement Award World Music as an example, multiple Grammy nods but not one Grammy win. She continues to inspire as she trumps life’s adversities. From reviews it seems she is really enjoying herself on this tour. With an ardent fan base that have been hers for a half century, she has freshened her setlist to our greatest joy! There is only one Boss, the ultimate diva! You go girl and take us higher!

    • Joey DiGuglielmo

      Kirk, I think it’s a CRIME that Miss Ross has never won a Grammy when you look at some of the dubious artists who have. A travesty.

  • I love all of these reviews, I hope she does not continue to change it to much for the Los Angeles Nokia concert. Either way I am glad (very happy) to see the new added band members, light show, screen and videos, makes it much more modern and exciting.

    Love , Love, Love Ms. Ross

    Te Quiero Diana!!!

  • Did she not include her tribute to Michael Jackson at this concert?

  • Diana Ross never smoked cigarettes!

    • Joey DiGuglielmo

      Why are you being so insistent on this point Mic? It’s a fact, she did at one time smoke, but so what? There’s that famous photo of the Supremes backstage where Diane’s smoking, Mary’s sitting in back of her and Flo is looking in the mirror. It’s in Diane’s book no less. Also I know people who knew her back in the day who saw her smoking all the time. She either quit in the late ’70s or early ’80s but it was a LONG time ago.

    • Mic – I’m afraid she did. She was just rarely photographed doing it.

  • Yes Mic she did smoke – ‘More’ cigarettes in fact – had them with her at the press conference in NYC announcing The Wiz film project – there are photos. She is a human being after all, she smoked on camera in more than one scene in ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ – she may still smoke and who really cares? Wonderful talent, drive, ambition, discipline, focus, heart, love, generosity, style, grace and faith.

  • Thank you for the review. I am looking forward to seeing and hearing Miss Ross in Atlanta on June 4th.

  • Tom. I never knew Diana to be a habitual smoker. She may have smoked occasionally at that time, but I have never seen her smoke, in public in the last 50 years.

  • Caught Diana at eh Statem Theater in Cleveland Friday night with the same song set. Trouble with the sound system were fixed by the end of The Boss. She sounded GREAT, she looked GREAT! It was everything I expected and MORE. Just one questions-Why isn’t this woman recording regularly? I’m hoping her one son (the business major) grabs hold of the reigns like they did for Tony Bennett. Ross has been away from the recording studio for far too long.

  • liked the review till the whitney bit about her out singing miss ross,houston had a more powerful vocal than miss ross but power alone does not great singers make,miss ross is a great singer,up there alongside ella,peggy lee,etc,no one can convey sorrow or pure joy like miss ross,its nuances and phrasing that makes great singers and miss ross has it in droves alongside with star quality and class all lacking in houston and others of her ilk.

  • Joey,

    Lee and I enjoyed meeting you at the concert, and I certainly enjoyed this fine review! As a writer, you are as thoughtful anad gifted as you came across in person.

    Cheers!

    Vance

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