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Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013

Diana Ross @ The Riverside Theater

Aug. 27, 2013

diana ross at the riverside theater milwaukee 2013
Photo credit: Melissa Miller
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At her nearly sold-out show on Tuesday night at the Riverside Theater, Diana Ross powered through the hits, spanning decades, genres and styles in her hour-and-a-half long set. Famous for her work in The Supremes, her solo career and numerous films, Ross packed the house on a hot weekday evening, bringing both experience and energy to an intensely enthusiastic audience.

Ross’ significance as a pop performer, landscape shaper and Motown legend is fairly evident—Biggie sampled her, after all—and her tightly run, 90-minute set was a testament to her place in pop music. Opening the evening with the appropriate “I’m Coming Out,” Ross barely let the crowd catch their breath before launching into a four-song set of Supremes hits, the highlight of which was a version of “Stop! In the Name of Love” that made the already-thrilled crowd even more excited.

Ross does seem larger than life, which is fitting, considering it feels as though the word “diva” was concocted to accommodate her. Even from the second balcony, audiences could still see her smile, not to mention appreciate her three costume changes (the visibility of sequins is truly remarkable). Ross’s public image can seem conflicted, with tabloid appearances and reports of temperamental and demanding behavior, but regardless of her personal life, she’s an absolute force as a performer, and clearly a seasoned entertainer who has only grown more capable with time. The set never seemed to lose steam, and with the nine-piece band and three back-up singers running like a well-oiled machine behind Ross, it’s hard to see how any audience could lose interest.

Thanks to Ross’s career longevity, she could select from close to 50 years of excellent pop songwriting, but it was most interesting to see the covers she selected. “The Look of Love,” made famous by Dusty Springfield, showed off Ross’s warm lower range, an asset less prevalent on many of her own hits, and, given the energy present throughout the set, briefly created a mellow, more reflective mood. “More Today Than Yesterday” didn’t land quite as well, never seeming to find the effortless rhythmic groove that made the original work so well. Nevertheless, Ross didn’t hit a bad note all night.

Following a trajectory not unlike a fireworks display, Ross closed the evening with a huge, unstoppable medley of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I Will Survive,” asking the crowd regarding the latter, “Do you know this song?” and giving them her megawatt smile when they roared in response, as they did to every other song, that yes, they knew it. As she faced the crowd and began to sing, it seemed impossible that there could be any other answer.