In our most expensive splurge on gig tickets and travel so far, we travelled over 5,000 miles to the United States of America to see one of the world’s biggest divas perform in Las Vegas.
Every little soul boy has a dream. Originally, my dream was to see Aretha Franklin in Chicago, but the Queen of Soul in her royal wisdom cancelled her show, leaving me crushed. You’d think after such a devastating blow I wouldn’t get excited at the prospect of transatlantic travel to see an ageing soul diva. Alas, you’d be wrong. After bribing my girlfriend with the prospect of a trip to Las Vegas’s excellent designer outlet shopping mall and pancakes at IHOP, she agreed to join me in this most ridiculous spending splurge to see none other than Diana Ross live in concert.
But then again, how ridiculous is it to fork out hundreds of pounds to see Ms Ross in concert? After all, she no longer performs outside of North America, instead doing select dates across America and Canada and usually a week or so in Las Vegas at one of the theatres at one of the high-end casinos. Ross already spent two weeks in Vegas this February at The Venetian, to sold out audiences and rave reviews. Then it was announced she would be bringing a new three week residency to the Wynn Resort a series of intimate performances entitled “Endless Memories”, and attempt at a pun from her classic, if drippy, duet with Lionel Richie.
After a 10 hour flight, a trek up and down the Las Vegas strip, and some agreeable American cuisine, it was time to make our way to the Wynn. Ms Ross’s residency is taking place in the small Encore Theatre within the resort grounds. The theatre only seats about 1000 people or so, and the seats in the orchestra are reportedly no more than 80 ft away from the stage, making it perfect for intimate performances.
Luckily for us, our seats were about half way up the orchestra, with a perfect view of the stage. Anticipation was understandably high high: people were taking pictures of themselves with the huge posters of Diana Ross outside the theatre, others were reminiscing about their own endless memories, and others, being in America, were buying enough snacks to feed a family of four to gorge on during the performance. Nothing says ‘Endless Memories with Diana Ross’ more than a bucket full of popcorn and endless indigestion afterwards.
Interestingly, and a little surprisingly, we weren’t the only Brits in the audience. I don’t know how many of them booked their holiday purely to see Ms Ross (and go shopping, obviously) I can’t say, but it’s a testament to Ms Ross’s legacy as a singer and performer that she can draw a crowd of such diversity.
We took our seats, and eagerly awaited for the clock to strike 8PM when Ms Ross would take to the stage. There was no support act, although the band played an introductory overture for about 5 minutes as the crowd settled into their seats, and those who bought popcorn could prime themselves for a night of music and eating. And then, there is was, the unmistakable voice of Diana Ross.
Entering from stage right, dressed head to toe in a turquoise sequinned dress, along with a huge matching feather boa, Ms Ross appeared. Smiling and waving to her audience, the crowd responded with a huge cheer, rising to their feet, dancing to the disco beat of ‘I’m Coming Out’. It might be a classic disco song and LGBT anthem, but it’s also the perfect song to open a set with – as Diana Ross has been doing for the past three decades.
A verse and chorus later, Ms Ross and her excellent backing band launched into ‘More Today Than Yesterday‘, a cover of The Spiral Staircase song which she had covered on her tepid album I Love You in 2006. She performed the song better than she did on the album – and the song is clearly a favourite of Ms Ross, as she elegantly covered the stage seemingly happy and enjoying herself.
Then it was time for Ms Ross to revisit her time with The Supremes. Her days as a Supreme always seem a bit of a sore spot for Ms Ross: no doubt she enjoyed the period and success, but it was a stressful time of bickering with fellow Supremes Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard combined with almost constant touring. In live performances during her solo career she has tended to neglect her Supremes work – take, for instance, her 1989 live album: she gives ample room to her new solo records, but only 7 minutes to a medley of Supremes songs.
Thankfully, Ms Ross has gone back to performing full versions of some of her Supremes classics. We were treated to half an hour of her favourite Supremes songs, beginning with ‘My World is Empty Without You‘. Then she launched into ‘Baby Love‘, and from the first “Oooo” the crowd instantly joined in with Ms Ross, hollering back at her “BABY LOVE, MY BABY LOVE”, mostly out of tune. Then, to excite the crowd further, Ms Ross stood centre stage, put our her hand and arm like a policewoman directing traffic on the strip and belting out ‘Stop! In the Name of Love‘. The crowd, still on their feet, joined in too – and it was surprising that no one hit anyone in front. Clearly these Diana Ross fans are well versed in her dance routines.
Then came back to back TSFR favourites with ‘Come See About Me‘ and ‘You Can’t Hurry Love‘, and a blistering version of ‘Love Child‘, one of the best songs The Supremes ever recorded. Then Ms Ross left the stage for the first of her many costume changes, this time into a sequinned red dress. The band and backing singers, who recreated the Motown Sound expertly despite being a relatively sparse group (Motown would record with three guitarists at once, Ms Ross now does with just one).
A few minutes later, Ms Ross reappeared, looking like a disco diva – and re-entering the stage to her Ashford & Simpson penned disco tune ‘The Boss‘. Once again, the audience lapped it up and took to their feet. The disco era continued, as the Encore Theatre’s disco ball emerged, with Ms Ross then launching into a superb rendition of ‘Upside Down‘. She initiated a sing-a-long, urging the audience to sing the chorus with her, whilst getting down and showing that a seventy-year old diva can still dance like it’s 1981. To round out the trio of disco classics, she then sang her hit ‘Love Hangover‘.
Taking the tempo up a notch further she then performed a version of ‘Ease on Down the Road‘ from the film The Wiz, in which she starred alongside Michael Jackson. Then, taking the tempo even higher, she performed her nineties song ‘Take Me Higher‘, a song I’d never heard before, but one with which I instantly fell in love with. Dance-orientated and very unlike her trademark sound, ‘Take Me Higher’ is just great – and Ms Ross did a great version live.
To give the crowd a bit of a rest, the Motown queen then slowed the tempo, and went into one of her most famous ballads, ‘Touch Me in the Morning‘. Sounding just as good as she did in 1973, Ms Ross was outstanding – even cheekily grabbing her crotch seductively as she sang the chorus. Maybe Ms Ross is looking for love.
Then, naturally, it was time for another costume change: this time Ms Ross reappeared wearing a black sequinned gown, with a bright yellow feather boa around her neck. Once again her band covered her whilst she got changed, with her saxophonist launching into an excellent solo to the Burt Bacharach song ‘The Look of Love‘ (which she also recorded on her 2006 album I Love You). She then entered into her Lady Sings the Blues segment: a selection of songs she recorded as part of the soundtrack to her debut film, Lady Sings the Blues.
I’ve never seen the film, but her renditions of the songs proved to me just how great a singer Diana Ross is and how versatile she can be. Perhaps because we are used to The Supremes classics, or the Chain Reaction era Diana Ross, we forget just what a talented singer she is. As much as I love Ms Ross, I would never have put her in the same category as Aretha Franklin or Marvin Gaye or Otis Redding as singers – but I found myself reassessing my opinion during her Lady Sings the Blues medley. Diana Ross can really, really sing.
There was time for a quick version of her cover of Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers’s ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love‘ before Ms Ross slipped off stage again, only to reappear in a bright white sparkly dress, looking every inch the diva she is. It was the perfect dress for the climax of the show: the classic ‘Do You Know Where You’re Going To’ and ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ medley. Ms Ross has been performing this medley for decades, and when it sounds so good as it does, why bother change it?
I had always said that I wasn’t too bothered about the setlist so long as she performed ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, and I was not disappointed. Perhaps the largest smile ever to have graced my face appeared the moment Ms Ross coed gracefully, “If you need me, call me…” Out flew her hands, as she looked up into the heavens: if there is ever a peak Diana Ross pose, it’s that one.
The band were simply stunning, working hard to recreate one of the most beautiful orchestrations in popular music. And the climax: when Diana Ross sang the chorus, the whole theatre sang it back in unison, aware that something truly magical was happening.
After what seemed like an endless round of applause, Ms Ross thanked the crowd and went into ‘I Will Survive’, a staple of her live performances. The song was originally recorded by Gloria Gaynor, but Ms Ross did a cover in the nineties – and although her recorded cover isn’t a patch on Gaynor’s, Ms Ross performed an outstanding version live. Her backing singers really shined on this number, as Ms Ross, clearly in her element, danced and sang, before reaching out to her adoring crowd, shaking hands with people in the front.
Weirdly, Ms Ross and her band then broke out into a version of DJ Khalid’s ‘All I Do is Win’, something Ms Ross has done at previous shows. Having since listened to the original version, safe to say I prefer the Diana version more. But the crowd lapped it up, and it’s probably one of Ms Ross’s favourite contemporary songs. She’s Diana Ross, she can perform what she likes.
Then she left the stage once more, followed by her band – only to reappear a few minutes later in her fifth and final outfit of the night, something that can only be described as sparkly pyjamas. But if there is anyone who can get away with sparkly pyjamas, it’s Diana Ross.
She thanked the crowd, telling us that she loved us all, and asked if we wanted to hear anything. Queue shouts of obscure hits, but one woman in the front yelled “CHAIN REACTION!” Ms Ross did her trademark little giggle, replying “Chain Reaction, wow! I’ve not performed that in a long time! But the song I want to play is Reach Out and Touch”, leading the band into the encore. I mean, why ask? Ms Ross, ever the tease.
Then 90 minutes after it had begun, it was over. Ms Ross bowed, waved and shook more hands, before leaving the stage, no doubt of to one of the Wynn’s best suites. It was 90 minutes of pure joy – well worth the travel and expense.
With any performance by artists with such an impressive legacy and catalogue of music, there’s bound to be a few songs you love but don’t get to hear. For me, I would love to have heard The Supremes’s ‘I Hear A Symphony‘ (one of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s finest masterpieces), ‘Missing You‘ and, of course, ‘Chain Reaction‘. But Ms Ross only had 90 minutes to play with. She could easily have done a two hour show with just Supremes songs – then another two hours with just her solo songs. But, at the end of the show, I was happy. More than happy. For I had just seen the legend Diana Ross perform less than 50 feet away.
What struck me throughout the performance was not only how great Ms Ross is at this, but how happy she seemed to be doing it. Today at 73 she has no more barriers to break, nothing left to prove: she’s done it all. While others may perform and record more, Ms Ross is doing what she wants. She could record a new album and sell loads of copies – soul and disco is back on the up, and Ms Ross could easily have a ‘comeback’ if she so wanted. But watching her at the Encore Theatre, and reading tributes to her from her family in the media, I get the impression Ms Ross is happy with her life. And she deserves it.
To listen to the songs performed by Diana Ross, check out our Spotify playlist below.