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Diana Ross At City Center, Saturday, April 29th, 2017, Reviewed

The final performance of a five night residency at City Center, Diana Ross dusting off the rust before her performance at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, this was just about as good as it can possibly get. I’ve seen Miss Ross several times and in many ways, this may be the best (there was a show at Radio City, maybe twenty years ago,  that was pretty stupendous). Despite the six costume changes, this was a stripped down affair. No orchestra, no strings, a lean and funky backing band, three back up singers, and a minimum of fuss and a really, really minimum of talk from the often loquacious Diana. A terrific pianist, two drummers, and a fine sax player filled out with a guitarist and a bass player and that’s it.

Despite the 90 minutes of length, we weren’t cheated, there were no medleys, no skimping, nothing phoned in. Six Supremes classics right through the heart of the set were everything they could be without overshadowing everything surrounding it and when it comes to the Supremes, everything could easily be overshadowed. It wasn’t even the highlight, the highlight were two Billie Holiday covers from Diana Ross circa “Lady Sings The Blues”. The question for Ross was always does she have the soul to sing Holiday, the answer has always been yes but. The importance of the Supremes was in Ross’ glamorous chilliness, she was a diva with cold heat, a proto-feminist unyielding intelligence that took those songs and ripped them of artifice. Holiday was something else entirely, she lived in em in ways Ross never does. But perhaps she does so more now and while at the time I had extreme reservations, that no longer exists. I wish Ross would tour behind Holiday’s catalog. The last time I saw Ross she wasn’t singing at all, she was sitting at a Valerie Simpson concert and I just stared at her mesmerized: you know, the way I probably would with Dylan, a sort of, “wow, that’s her”. I missed the King’s Theatre 2015 gig, and while she played Vegas and toured in 2016, she wasn’t here.

If this is the set Ross has been touring behind, there are few complaints, nearly every song is a smash, her voice sounds great and while the backing singers are carrying the high notes, well, that’s what they were hired to do. There was a head scratcher, making “I will Survive” her ultimate ending is bizarre in the extreme: maybe a nod to the gay contingent out in force, though she opened with “I’m Coming Out” and I don’t think she was thinking Biggie. And sure, a band this rehearsed isn’t taking chances, though a very late “The Best Years Of My Life” came as a wonderful surprise and was fresh and gorgeous. The vocal performance of the night. I don’t quite understand why she doesn’t cut some of the covers and maintain just Supremes-Ross songs, we didn’t get “Remember Me” or “The Happening” or “Endless Love” so we could hear “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”? That makes no sense.

Diana is not quite a diva now, she is an icon, a thing of beauty and wonder, who has streamlined her performance till every moment is perfect. From “Baby Love” through “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” there was a perfection to her performance, an implicit sense of complete control, so much so that she could invite her daughter and her ten year old grandson on stage and it just improved everything. It did not suck. There was no schtick, no subsuming into hip hop or modern r&b vibes, it was all very clear cut and any vamping there just so  Diana could change outfits.

Sure, a nostalgia trip but a great nostalgia trip. A legend near the top of her game at 73 years of age.

Grade: A-

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