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Arts & Entertainment
Diana Ross ::  I Love You Concert
by Thomas Todd
May 4, 2007 
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What I Liked About Diana’s I LOVE YOU Concert:

1. She sang only two songs recorded after 1981—which was a clever way for the diva to comment on everything she's recorded for the past twenty-five years. In other words, adoring fans: ignore everything after 1981. Alas, the two recently recorded songs that she did sing were from her new CD “I LOVE YOU” and both were eminently forgettable and both occurred at the end of an overwhelmingly intense concert. So, I snoozed and fell into a half-sleep: in order to conserve energy for the performance’s finale—even though, at the time, I had no clue as to just how THRILLING that finale was going to be.

2. There was no annoying talk or fake-chatter with the audience to break the concert’s momentum. The show propelled forcefully forward and stopped only when it was over. The closest she came to banter was a remark during "It's My House" when, after doing a few bumps and grinds, she commented to someone in the first row, "Not bad for an old broad, huh?” a throwaway comment reminiscent of the Diana Ross from the Seventies. Back then, if the diva worship threatened to get out of hand, she'd do something to tone the show down, to bring the audience back to earth.

And Ross could easily have relied on nostalgia to introduce "Where Did Our Love Go." Previous to that smash record, the Supremes had released eight flop 45s, a string of failures unheard of at Motown—and one that earned the girl-group the moniker "The No-Hit Supremes." But then, on April 8, 1964, they recorded "Where Did Our Love Go"—and the rest was history. Not that sentimental memories were Ross's concern at this concert. If they had been, she might have noted that “Where Did Our Love Go?” had been recorded almost 43 years ago to the day. She could have gone all syrupy on us, flicking away a tear or two, as she recalled the long gone good old days… Instead, she attacked the sexy but plaintive hit with a new aggressive energy. Lachrymose, this was not—nor was any part of this show.

3. The musicians—a keyboard, two drums and two guitars—created a pared-down sound very much like the funk group Chic. The scratchy guitars galvanized the hits and gave tired duds like "Ease on Down the Road” and "Love Child" an excitingly new life. Seriously, the songs sounded newly minted and fresh—and all the better for knowing that Niles Rodgers was in the audience.

4. The concert's main focus was the estate of Diana Ross's voice: rich and thrusting on her defiant (and definitive) "The Boss," and sensitive and elegant on ballads like "Don't Explain" and "Touch Me In the Morning." Whenever she sustained a note of particularly shimmering beauty, the crowd applauded.

5. And yes, folks, she changed gowns—more than a few times. This is show biz, after all! Ross has always utilized multiple costume changes. The audience wants it that way. After all, it’s not as if she were doing a lieder recital. And yes, even that hair is theatrical—and it looks great onstage.

6. Her voice. Yes, her voice has changed during her more than forty years of stardom, but she still knows how to work it, and at this concert, she completely avoided any treacly warbling. The thin, high-pitched chirping that she has often resorted to was noticeably absent.

(And also, for the record, Ross never tried to sing like Billie Holliday. In the film Lady Sings the Blues, her vocalizing is part of a dramatic performance. Ross suggests Billie Holliday's voice without ever imitating it. And at this concert, Ross paid homage to Billie Holliday by singing two signature pieces with a ravishing beauty of tone that, once again, honored both the music and the Lady most often associated with it.)

7. The audience ranged in age from about 7 to 77 and was a delightful composite of Asian, African-American, Caucasian, male, female, gay, and straight. Her appeal is much broader than I had previously thought and it was incredible to see teenage girls dancing (as was everyone else) to her Supremes medley.

8. And then those songs… Ross was not doing your garden-variety "oldies" concert. Instead, these songs are pop classics, and she gave them the respect they deserve. Think about it: has there ever been a time in the past forty years when "Baby Love" has not been emanating from either a store, a disco, a radio, or a taxi cab?

9. Her very "becoming" modesty. As we all know, Ross could have gone on and on and on about the accolades she's received during her career (for example, that special Tony she was awarded in 1977 for her legendary performances at the Palace Theatre). Arguably, Ross was the first black female to achieve superstar status in any area of show business, and she did it at a time when music made her legendary ascent possible. Let’s face it, black women today owe a lot to the Diana Ross of the Sixties Supremes.

Oh—and also—Ross never mentioned the Supremes—or, for that matter, any of the original members by name. She sang these songs as if they were hers and hers alone.

10. Which brings us to: The Finale. In the past, Ross has tried that old disco chestnut "I Will Survive" but never before has it had this impact. She tore into the number with full-bodied voice and made it an electrifying musical commentary on her own survival. And right when the performance could easily have ended, the lights changed and the musicians started playing more excitingly than ever, whereupon Ross pointed at her audience, giving her another a standing ovation, and shouted with determination, "YOU WILL!"

And there I was, thinking: Yes, thank you, Diana. I needed to hear that. We all did. The woman will survive and so shall we all. Then, waving to her standing audience, she shouted, “Til next time.”

I’ll be there. We all will.