Originally scheduled to perform in 2020, the Motown legend finally performs for her eager English fanbase with classics-packed set
The M&S Bank Area of Liverpool feels like one big “girls’ night out”: groups of ladies dressed in their best sequins and feather boas, mothers and daughters bonding, and the occasional over-dressed wives with their husbands who didn’t make much of an effort.
Waiting for Diana Ross to take the stage, I hear a group behind me talking, “So, she’s the lead singer of the Bangles, right?” “No, she was like Beyonce in Dream Girls.” While this might seem like a throw-away conversation, it makes a statement. Diana Ross and The Supremes are at the pinnacle of all girl groups, with a legacy that stretches to the Egyptian-walking Bangles, and introduced to a new generation with Dream Girls.
After a dramatic montage of Diana Ross through the years, she struts across the stage to the tune of “I’m Coming Out,” which instantly brings the entire audience to their feet. Her first outfit of the night is a form-fitted red dress with a gigantic ruffled cape. The song doubles as not only her walk-out fanfare, but also a certified gay anthem. “I’m Coming Out” was originally penned by disco-master Nile Rodgers back in 1980, and remains one of Diana’s biggest hits to date.
The first section of this concert is a throwback to her time with the Supremes, running through a string of hits including “My World Is Empty Without You,” “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Love Child.” With little to no acknowledgement of the audience during this section, she’s like a human jukebox. Quickly prefacing “Stop! In the Name of Love,” Diana asks, “Are you too young to remember this?” But when the audience synchronously sings along (and strikes the Supremes’ signature “Stop!” pose), she says “You’re not too young, sing along!” Using the endearing soft quality of her voice, she has charmed the audience completely. The crowd responds best to “You Can’t Hurry Love,” which was a huge hit with the Supremes in 1966, but it was also a hit for fellow Brit Phil Collins in 1982, proving that this music is timeless. The true stars of this opening set are the brass and percussion sections; they fill the arena with that iconic Motown sound.
Leaving her band to showcase their talents, Ross goes for a quick costume change. This time she returns in a purple dress with a matching tulle cape draped around her. This section of her show is dedicated to post-Supremes solo endeavors such as “Chain Reaction” and “Upside Down.” A show-stopping highlight of the concert is when Diana sings “I’m Still Waiting.” Seemingly all 11,000 people in the arena know the lyrics to unrequited love ballad, and have clearly experienced something similar in their lives – there is a lot of mascara running in the crowd around me. After breaking everyone’s heart for a bit, Diana performs a a medley of “Love Hangover / Take Me Higher / Ease on Down the Road.” Leaving the band to take turns soloing over “Ease on Down the Road” from The Wiz, Diana leaves the stage for another outfit change.
Returning to the stage in what can only be described as a hot pink ball gown, Diana Ross is a vision of royalty. Telling us what a beautiful audience we are, the band begins to play “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” Diana Ross’ cover of the classic Frankie Lymon & the Teenager song became one of her first post-Motown hits in 1981. Playing on the screen behind her is the official video for the song which features her running down the Las Vegas strip. Dancing back and forth across the stage, it’s hard to believe that it’s been about 40 years since she recorded that video. Slowing down the pace of the show, she asks everyone to turn on their phone flashlights to light up the arena. Dedicating “If We Hold on Together” to everyone in the audience, with its lyrics of hope and love, Ross uses the song to highlight everything we as a human race have been through in the past few years, and everything we are still continuing to face. The song was a No. 1 hit in Japan, and reached No. 11 in the UK, so it was well-received by the Liverpool crowd – this Gen-Z writer, however, remembers it from a favorite childhood movie, The Land Before Time.
Diana Ross kept busy during the pandemic, making the album Thank You, the namesake of this tour. She tells the audience that the concept behind the album was gratitude, and that she feels so blessed to be performing again after such a long break. The crowd welcomes the song “If the World Just Danced” from her new album. All about using dance as form of catharsis, the song was clearly made for the club. Following something new with an old classic, she introduces the theme song from her movie, Mahogany. The stage screens turn into a backdrop of stars, making it appear as Diana was floating through space in a ballgown as she croons, “Do you know where you’re going to? / Do you like the things that life is showing you?” Without missing a beat, the orchestral sounds of the Mahogany theme transition swiftly into a cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Leaving her background singers to perform their best vocal runs, Diana exits the stage to make her final costume change of the evening.
Dancing back onto the stage in a suit that shimmers like a disco ball, Diana Ross performs her final song of the evening: a cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” The Disco Diva classic sends the energy of the audience through the roof. Promising the crowd that she’ll see us next time; she departs the stage. Diana Ross is probably the first artist I’ve ever encountered who did not do an encore. The expectant crowd was visibly let down when the lights in the arena came on, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ms. Ross performed a huge selection of hits in near-chronological order, perfectly showcasing her entire career up to this point.
Diana Ross’ voice, slightly changed by age, but still as dainty as ever, is one that every music fan should try to hear live. When watching her perform, it becomes so clear how much she influenced popular music throughout her career, from her early years with Motown in the ‘60s, through to her solo disco classics in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and her present-day foray into club music; she’s a monument to artistic evolution and success.
All of this to say: if you have a chance to see Diana Ross live, do it.