In Music Reviews

Diana Ross performed a set worthy of a diva at the BMO Harris Pavilion Friday night.

Diana Ross delivers a performance worthy of a diva supreme

One word: legendary. 73-year-old Diana Ross is simply a diva's diva. Eyes closed or open, Diana was practically the same as she was physically and vocally almost 60 years ago when she was the lead singer of the Supremes.

Picture this: south end of the Summerfest grounds, BMO Harris Pavilion, a beautiful sunset after what had been a very cloudy day, with Lake Michigan as the backdrop. Classic stage set up, no frills but a full band: bass, guitar, drums, piano, percussion, drums, saxophone and three background singers (one female, two males), all dressed in black. A screen in the background that changed throughout the night with different light patterns.

But clearly, Ms. Ross – performing for the first time in Milwaukee in four years – was the intended focal point of the evening.

The band played for several minutes before Diva Diana hit the stage, but when she hit it, she hit it BIG with the hit 1980s popular single, "I'm Coming Out." This song, the second single from Ross' self-titled, tenth studio album, "Diana," had a couple meanings, but the one that is most fitting to me is that she was leaving Motown and coming out from under Berry Gordy's thumb.

It is also notable for being the first song usually performed at Ross' performances and concerts since 1980. The entire audience jumped to its feet as the diva made her entrance, donning a bright red sequin gown with a red chiffon overcoat.

The band went right into "More Than Yesterday," a cover originally performed by Spiral Staircase. Ross has included this song as part of her playlist on many tours.

Up next: The Supremes 1965 single, "My World Is Empty Without You." Diva Diana sashayed to side of stage where she dropped her red chiffon overcoat to give us a full view of her lovely red sequin gown. She seamlessly continued the number, voice strong and clear. At the end of the song, Ross yelled out, "It's memory time! And this memory is supreme!" The band began to play "Baby Love," a 1964 Billboard chart-topper for The Supremes.

For the next memory, Ms. Ross asked the crowd, "Do you remember this song?!" As the band played, the audience screamed and rocked to "Stop In The Name Of Love," another Supremes number one Motown hit. With the classic stage set up, there were red lights that flashed above for every "STOP."

"Come See About Me" was next up on memory lane, yet another Supremes hit single. The song became third of five consecutively released Supremes songs to top the Billboard pop singles chart in the United States (with "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," "Stop! In the Name of Love" and "Back in My Arms Again" as the others).

Ross followed with "You Can't Hurry Love," another Supremes hit (are we noticing a pattern yet?) as well as one of my personal faves! Diva Diana ended with a breakdown, chanting, "Gotta wait, gotta give and take, love don't come easy!"

The Supremes' 11th (and penultimate) No. 1 single in the United States, "Love Child," was next. The band switched to a salsa groove as Ross left the stage, and the saxophonist took center stage with a short solo as the band continued to jam.

Diva Diana returned to the stage in a lime green (yes, lime green – and it was lovely!) ostrich feather coat and a gunmetal diamante gown underneath, singing "The Boss," a 1979 disco song written and produced by Ashford & Simpson.

The single, "Touch Me In The Morning," got couples on their feet, dancing in the aisles while others sat with the slower pace. The Diva was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for this song.

Reminiscent of the earlier part of the set, Ms. Ross then dropped the lime green overcoat and she sparkled like she was covered in pixie dust.

The very popular hit, "Upside Down," got everyone back on their feet. Diva Diana rode the song out as she shined the light on the audience. 'I can see you back there! Can you hear me?' she asked, and the crowd went wild! As the song ended, she just stood at center stage, embracing her imperial presence as the crowd screamed.

She did a little dance, and with no music, she began singing "Upside Down"! 'This feels so good, I don't wanna stop!," she proclaimed. The band and background singers join in with "Upside down you're turning me, You're giving love instinctively!" This is another one of my personal favorites, and I may or may not have been screaming …

For the next number, Ross called Fred White, one of her background singers, to the front of the stage to join her in the classic duet, "Endless Love," written by Lionel Richie and originally recorded as a duet between Richie and Ross. In the ballad, the singers declare their "endless love" for one another. Later on, it was covered by soul singer Luther Vandross with R&B singer Mariah Carey.

Fred White is a native Milwaukeean, which was an added bonus to the show and perhaps an unknown to many in attendance. As the song ended, Ms. Ross held the mic to the audience to finish the last chorus singing: "Endless Looooooooooove."

The first album and single recorded by Diana Ross after leaving Motown was "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," the first to be produced by Diva Diana herself, so that was next up for the night.

She followed it with a slow and sultry rendition of "Love Hangover," singing, "If there's a cure for this, I don't want it!" And she flowed right into the 1995 single," Take Me Higher," in classic medley fashion.

And what would a Diana Ross show be without something from "The Wiz"?! We "Ease on Down the Road," and Ross left again for wardrobe change number three as the band continued to groove.

When Ross returned to the stage, she was shining (literally and figuratively) in silver, with a white feathered overcoat! She yelled "Mahogany!" and said, "If you know the words, please sing along with me, I really love that!" And she proceeded to sing the popular lyrics, "Do you know where you're going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you? Where are you going to? Do you know?"

The hit "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" – originally performed by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, written by Ashford and Simpson – is a climax as we neared the end of the show. The song was Ms. Ross' first number one solo Billboard Top 100 single and earned a Grammy award.

Ross left the stage as the song ended, but the Diva returned to introduce her band and background singers, each taking a short solo upon introduction, showcasing the phenomenal talent of her stage team. She also introduced her daughter, Rhonda Ross, who was the show's opening act. They performed "I Will Survive" and proceeded into a cover of DJ Khaled's "All I Do Is Win," quite an appropriate ending to her show and a testament to a lifelong singing career. Then Diva Diana and her band exited the stage expeditiously.

However, the crowd did not immediately disperse, cheering for an encore – and after a few minutes, they got it as the band and Ross came back to the stage. Now, she was in a very casual black number, seemingly not anticipating coming back out, yet still amazingly stunning. She asked the crowd what to sing, and she heard, "Something from 'Lady Sings The Blues.'" She remarked that, "That's a down song; I like to leave you on an upbeat note ... OK, I'll do a little of 'Lady Sings The Blues,' 'Don't Explain,' but then I'll do something more upbeat!" And so Ross starts to sing, "Hush now don't explain, you're my joy and pain ... "

Her background singers returned, and they went back into the upbeat "I Will Survive" that the show originally ended on! The energy was high, and I'm sure the crowd was satisfied. I certainly was.

Overall, I honestly had an issue with the balance of sound. Many of her lyrics were difficult for me to understand, and the band seemed a little loud – but to no fault of the star diva! Those sitting next to me had the same sentiments. When she returned for the encore, however, she sounded a lot clearer than most of the earlier show and it was appreciated.

With that said, I am in complete AWE! And as the concert goer next to me exclaimed, "She's still got it!" I concur. Keep on keepin' on, Diva Diana!

Setlist

"I'm Coming Out"
"More Than Yesterday"
"My World Is Empty Without You"
"Baby Love"
"Stop In the Name of Love"
"Come See About Me"
"Can't Hurry Love"
"Love Child"
"The Boss"
"Touch Me In The Morning"
"Upside Down"
"Endless Love"
"Why Do Fools Fall In Love"
"Love Hangover"
"Take Me Higher"
"Ease On Down the Road"
"Mahogany Theme"
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough"
"I Will Survive"
"All I Do Is Win"
Encore
"Don't Explain"

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