Diana Ross has the power to hold off the rain until she’s comfortably tucked into bed—wherever that may be—so that she can dazzle an outdoor crowd at dusk. She’s that powerful. The incomparable Ms. Ross kept it short and sweet last night with a 75-minute set at the Mann Center and no opening act. That’s how you do it. Get em’ in, dazzle em’, and get em’ out before curfew.

Here are some things we saw, heard and learned:

1. It was surreal. We got through the gates at about 8:10 p.m., 10 minutes after the scheduled showtime, and just as we got underneath the bandshell came her ecstatic first few bars of “I’m Coming Out.” After all these years, does anyone else think about how bizarre and wonderful it is that Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards penned this extraordinarily appropriate Pride/coming-out anthem in 1979? Legend has it that the Chic boys saw some drag queens dressed as Diana at a NYC nightclub called the GG Barnum Room, and that Ms. Ross found significance in it for the way that she was “coming out” of the control of Berry Gordy at Motown. Either way, she must feel a little bit of the queer pride that we beam at her whenever she sings this anthem in a space full of LGBT folk. It’s palpable.

2. One of the first Supremes tracks she pulled out was “My World is Empty Without You,” one of my favorites. It’s got that ominously slow-building and quiet darkness that Amy Winehouse captured on Back to Black (obviously, she’d be nowhere if Ms. Ross hadn’t done it first). Ross and the Supremes magically boil down the essence of the longing woman who’s hurt and pissed.

3. Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death., and we all know that MJ was near and dear to Diana’s heart. My guest and I grooved to the entirety of Thriller being played on the radio as we waited in 676 traffic, and we were certain that she’d either cover or say something about him. Didn’t happen.

4. It is here that I’d like to begin gushing about the outfit changes: There were five. Each one as fabulous and over-the-top as the next. Honestly, I’d watched Pageant (for the third time) the night before and was reminded of Pork Chop’s massive feather overcoat. Ross’ was bigger and nicer, obviously. But I was particularly lit up by her metallic silver gown, here second, that looked like it was literally dripping with sequins and paired with a massive yellow overcoat, the raw material for which is anyone’s guess. Fake fur? Real fur? Feathers? A combination thereof? Doesn’t matter; it ended up on the floor like every other outerwear-paired statement piece. Five outfits in 75 minutes is the way to do it, diva.

5. Clearly, no songs were off-limits. She blasted through “Upside Down” fluttering a fan in her face like she was sitting in church on a hot summer Sunday. Immediately thereafter, her band ripped into “Love Hangover,” and it was here that I took stock of the extremely helpful and supportive 12-piece band behind her: two percussionists, two trumpets, two sax men, a guitar, a bass, keys and three back-up singers. They were totally tight, and the set was carried by their professionalism—especially those back-up singers, who basically sing the whole song while Diana jumps in as she wishes.

6. The attendees were pretty chill and mixed. After “I’m Coming Out” kept people on their feet, it was pretty much a seated affair. In fact, a couple songs in, my neighbors were tapping on shoulders and telling people to sit down to improve their sight lines. Kudos to them. Also of note, the upper upper level, the cheapest lawn and stadium seats, were pretty much all empty. Why?

7. One of the highlights was “The Look of Love,” and the sax man came out onto the audience for a famous walk along the backs of chairs—yes, while wailing. Ross didn’t emerge from an outfit change until she was ready to coo the first verse of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s 1967 staple that Dusty Springfield launched but has since been recorded by Nina Simone, Anita Baker, Barry Manilow, Frank Sinatra and Diana Krall.

8. She did songs from The Wiz, Lady Sings The Blues and, my favorite of her movie songs, “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” which was a number-one in 1976. It’s just so gentle and beautiful and saccharine sweet.

9. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was first recorded in 1976 by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, an outstanding recording and an iconic one, no doubt. It’s got that infectious percussive flap and tumble in the first bars, but Terrell was no Ross. When the latter recorded it in 1980, it shot up the charts to number-one, much to the chagrin of her ex, Mr. Gordy. Which version do you prefer?

10. I will admit, 75 minutes feels a little short. With no opener and no intermission, they stopped serving beer at 8:30 p.m. We were in a car and heading home to South Philly by 10pm, but Ms. Ross is 70, and she can do whatever she wants. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and shout out my friend R. Eric Thomas’ review and shine a light on this imagined mentality:

“Uh, this has been fun but I’m 70 years old and I gotta go. I got Orange Is The New Black paused on my iPad. Me and Chaka Khan text about it. And you know that queen stays giving away spoilers. Look, I’m going to sing you a couple of chords and then bounce. We’ve had a lovely evening and we’ve spent a lovely 50 years together. You’re lucky I didn’t just have my driver roll the limo on stage so I could sing to you out the window. Did that one time in Toledo. Kicked my shoes off and everything. Anyway, thank you Philly. It’s been real.”



About The Author

Staff writer

Bill's a small town, public school boy that grew up in the Hudson Valley of New York and attended Hamilton College and the University of Oregon. In New York, he interned for Next magazine, Out magazine, and Flavorpill.com. As soon as he got to Philly he sent about a dozen emails to then-music editor Brian McManus, begging for an internship. Six years later he's the Senior A&E writer for PW and the Staff writer for the South Philly Review.

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