WITH MISS ROSS' new release "I LOVE YOU" coming out on January 16th, I share a couple of TESTIFY/PATRICK'S POP UP(DATES) from the vaults to get us all in the mood.
DIANA ROSS IN CONCERT
LOCATION: ROGER SHERMAN BALDWIN PARK (Greenwich, CT)
* 1st stateside show since July 23, 2002
* FREE (with patron tix sold from $250 to $1,000 - all proceeds benefitting the ARCH STREET TEEN CENTER)
One week ago, Greenwich, CT resident Diana Ross called Arch Street teen center Executive Director Kyle Silver to see if he would be interested in her giving a free concert in the adjacent Roger Sherman Baldwin Park. Her sons, Evan (16) and Ross (17) are active members of the nonprofit organization that promotes a drug-and alcohol-free environment for high-school age teens to socialize and take on active roles in the community. Since the town's high school graduation was scheduled for the following Thursday, Diana felt this proposed show would be a great way to celebrate and kick off summer for Greenwich and its residents.
This committment made in Diana's Belle Haven mansion last week echoed the vocal strains of "I'm Coming Out", crescending from her dressing room trailer in July of 1983, when she began day two of her legendary Central Park Concert, which too was free. Prior to belting out that show opener, Ross yelled "IT'S A NEW DAY!!!!" since it rained on her first-attempt the day prior. And since the diva has metaporically seen her share of dark nights over the last couple of years, it's awesome to know she's returning to the light of the stage, one place where she will belong eternally (... but for now, this is a one-night-only gig). And though we know she's a native daughter from Detroit's Brewster Projects, how appropriate that she's choosing the understated opulence of Greenwich, her home for the last twenty years, to come back to us.
FAST FORWARD just one week and organizers have combed through logistics (including town permits; patron ticket sales [proceeds which will benefit Arch Street]; managing phone calls; staging; etc.). And what's left? The highly anticipated show:
It's about 8:30 pm. More than 4,000 people of all ages are facing the stage shell beneath which Diana will soon stand. Her youngest son, Evan, can be seen floating through the crowd. His older brother, Ross, 17, is hanging out with some friends on the side of the seated audience. I see Diana's first husband Bob Silberstein there for support. And I think that's Rhonda Ross over there. She's the oldest of Ross' offspring. No Tracee. No Chudney. The band is in place and the teen center's executive director is thanking folks and without ado, he's introducing... Miss Diana Ross.
From my front-row seat (overlooking the Long Island Sound), I can see a bit of her behind the stage. She's draped in a coat of pink and orange feathers, which will later reveal a strapless, pink gown with sheer skirt of many layers. As the band overtures with the intro to her huge '80s hit "I'm Coming Out", Diana slightly trips onto the stage, an unintentional ritual that can always spark a little giggle from her and her fans.
But this is no sloppy chick or show. With ease and aplomb, she goes through a now obligatory "Chain Reaction" followed by her sassy, sexy, and jazzy reading of "Touch Me In The Morning". She is in great voice and looks spectacular (not a day over 60 [READ: 38]). Her mane says "I'm a Lion". But not a "Mean Ol' One". In fact, she's not mad at anything as she unleashes what seems a freshly-polished, 88-key smile on the enthusiastic crowd.
Only her repertoire from the "good ol' days" gives away her age. She works her way through several full-length Supremes songs from the 1960s - starting with "My World Is Empty Without You", "You Can't Hurry Love", "Where Did Our Love Go?", "Baby Love", and "Stop! In The Name Of Love". As she states, "It's been a long time since I've performed...". To that end, we forgive her periodic peek-a-boos at the teleprompter that sets below her at the edge of the stage right next to her sound monitors.
What might be perceived as a moment to change clothes ends up being her "proud moment of the night". She calls her youngest son, Evan up to the stage to perform Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed". Big sister Rhonda is coaching him through a sometimes pitchy, but otherwise impressive interpretation. Her husband, jazz pianist Rodney Kendricks, is the accompanist. Mother Diana stands behind Evan - reading her copy of the sheet music to make sure everything is flowing smoothly. It does... and we reward Evan with a standing ovation.
We love you, Evan... but bring Mama back to the spotlight. When she re-emerges stage center, she breaks out with another of her slamming '80s hits, "Mirror, Mirror". The funky guitar interlude provides her the opportunity to change into her next ensemble. From pale pink to a tiered red and fuschia number that covers her as if Diana is a rose in bloom. Through "Reflections" she's just that, but on "Love Child", she drops the fabric to reveal a strapless, sequined bodice and a train that allows her the room to do a "flamenco"-style number on the breakdown of the '60s hit. The stomping two-step shows us that Miss Ross still has the moves (or is she channeling the days in the Brewster Projects when perhaps she may have been stomping a cockroach or two?). Regardless, she's fabulous and this show couldn't be any better.
Maybe it could be, if she would call me on stage to dance with her, after she gets rid of the gown's fabric to just reveal a micro-mini number with high-heeled, metallic stacks that showcase her legs quite splendidly. She is jamming to disco classic "Upside Down" and my knees turn to butter when she signals for me to come up. I make it through the velvet rope, up the three steps, and am met with a Diana who is quite enthusiastic about my pants. She says "Look at those pants. Those are great! Wow!". Pointedly, I am wearing white-linen drawstrings with red hand-painted brush strokes for Miss Ross as she has admired my sometimes vibrant choice of pants over the years. (She also used to have a jones for New Edition's "jackets".) So, my mission is accomplished here, but I still have to dance. I channel the moves that she and Michael Jackson did together on the Jackson 5's "Feelin' Alright', which they performed on her first solo TV special. Diana is feeling "more than alright" and we are grooving as one. The moment goes on for what seems like forever (likely just a minute). Eventually, Diana stretches out her arms to give me a hug. She then kisses my cheek. I reciprocate and then squeeze her shoulders one last time in gratitude and awe. She gestures me off the stage. She thanks me. I thank her. And somehow I make it back to my seat, which is just three steps away.
I can die and go to heaven at this point, but thank goodness I don't because she begins to sing arguably my favorite Diana song, which she's not done in her line-up for some years. The song is "The Boss" and she sings it with the same vigor and va-voom of the '79 classic recording produced by Ashford and Simpson.
On the heels of those highs, Diana takes it down a thousand (and changes into a simple white gown covered in silver and gold applique). She doesn't want to bring the energy down, given the occassion, but she knows she must bring us Billie, as in Holliday, the legendary singer she portrays to Oscar-nominated effect in "Lady Sings The Blues". "Fine and Mellow" is sassy and vulnerable. But "Don't Explain" is just haunting and filled with a pain that Diana is perhaps living to interpret so honestly and vulnerably. Her virtuosoes are also allowed some vamp time during this set. HOT BAND!
She brings the crowd back on its feet with 50s remake "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" followed by "Do You Know Where You're Going To? (Theme from 'Mahogany')", which segues into "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". And we believe her. Not only that, as the audience is on its feet, it's as if they are saying "Nothing Can Keep Us From You, Diana". This, since many have traveled from as far as the U-K and the West Coast to survey Diana's triumphant and generous return to the stage. And others have spent between $250 and $1,000. Ain't No Mountain (or ticket sales) high enough to see Diana Ross, apparently...
And with THANKS, she sings "Endless Love" (after another costume change into a lime green, sequined gown). She curiously asks the crowd if it remembers this song. That standard query is usually thought to be a rhetorical, but Diana needs reinforcement. With applause and cheers, the audience assures her they haven't forgotten one song or her. Convinced, she continues to sing for the fans and her two little boys to whom she blows kisses during this, the biggest hit of her career.
An expected encore of "I Will Survive" places us on our feet and allows Diana the chance to show some fierce grit on some of those lines. As she belts this one out (eventually bringing out the red pant suit and tennis shoes), you get the sense that not only will she REALLY survive, but "(she) Ain't Been Licked, y'all".
And she reminds us of that at the post-show meet-and-greet. She looks great - even without the stage lights. She poses and signs autographs, and really allows us to be all up in her grill. Though she and the band will perform at a "private party" tomorrow night to be held at Caesar's Atlantic City for high-rollers, Diana hints that she may be doing even more work sometime soon, but no dates or promises. If tonight's show is a gauge, it will surely be worth the wait.