The air was electric as fans greeted each other enthusiastically. The chatter and alacrity had made an early declaration that this was going to be a special evening. It was a homecoming. But, not necessarily of the traditional sort. (Most of Diana’s core family unit had either transitioned on or simply moved away.) The homecoming was a reflection of from where the star was born, to a celebration of just how magnificently she has since traveled since. Billed as the “More Today Than Yesterday” Tour, the title also subliminally alluded to the obvious, “I Love You” (as in she) more today than yesterday. It was something this audience readily accepted and welcomed.
As the lights go down on the stage, silhouettes of the orchestra begin to appear. And then a gigantic screen drops down, and slowly, deliberately, the words, word by word materialize, “Are * You * Ready”! Nothing more is needed to drive the electricity to a frenzied state as an elegant overture of some of her most memorable songs begins to serenade the audience. And then, she boldly went where she had never quite dared to before and opens up with her anthemic smash, “The Boss”. It was a daring and thrilling choice that was a precursor of things to come that evening. “The Boss” has always been a wonderful, celebratory song in Diana’s joyous repertoire. Yet, “The Boss” is not the easiest song to sing. It is meant to be sung with vibrancy and has a demanding climatic vocal center. The lady more than met the challenge. Fans knew it as one of the pinnacles of her career. The less discerning simply were swept away by its infectious energy. There, rising above the stage like a goddess to the heavens, the diva makes yet another unforgettable entrance. The art direction and staging is instantly striking as the lighting shines a warm, light cobalt blue hue while Diana appears in a gorgeous black gown, with a citrus green-colored wrap enveloping her now curvaceous body.
The next song keeps the show moving effortlessly as the Motown-riffs of “More Today Than Yesterday” underscores the name of the show and the meaning she wants conveyed to her audience. Both “The Boss” and “More Today Than Yesterday” are sung with an easy, gleeful assuredness that keeps the audience on its feet.
Without missing a beat, she glides effortlessly into one Supremes-era classic after the other. What is most fulfilling is that, replaced from the compact medley of yore, she sings each song in its full, original creation. A mindful version of “Reflections” is given a careful reading that is winsome and only slightly melancholic; like a love of a long time ago, that has long since healed, but never will be forgotten. “You Can’t Hurry Love” picks the pace back up and draws you back into the Motown sound. And when she leads the audience into the career-defining, iconic arms-extended, “Stop! In the Name of Love”, she unites the entire audience in a moment of frivolity. There are smiles on the faces of many fans, casual ones included, in the audience.
Hats off to the imagination put into this altruistic beginning of the evening.
There is a notable gasp from the fans as Diana delves deep into her body of work for the Luther Vandross-produced, “It’s Hard for Me To Say” from her 1987 Red Hot Rhythm and Blues album. The screen cleverly displayed pictures of The Supremes and some key Diana moments while she sang #1 hit after #1 hit. For this surprise selection, the screen featured photos of other great Motown artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Levi Stubbs (of The Four Tops) to name a few.
For the fans of Diana’s more uptempo material, the band played “I’m Coming Out” with such precision that it was possibly the best version of the song heard to date. The saxophone solo was so on point that if the saxophonist had not stood near center stage you could have sworn this was a recording. She banged out 4 club classics, all #1 dance smashes, one after the other. As she returned to the stage wearing yet another gorgeous Bob Mackie creation, she saluted her multi-platinum, “Chic”-produced Diana album with the rhythmic, “Upside Down”. “Love Hangover”, the disco era smash, segued into the more recent “Take Me Higher”. The audience was on its feet the entire time. It was definitely time to dance. She called a couple of fans on stage to trip the lights fantastic. It was particularly impressive how easily “Love Hangover” floated into “Take Me Higher”.
After this exciting, uplifting moment in the show, she changed the mood and colors as you heard “Billie Holiday, Billie Holiday” over the speakers, introducing her jazz set. You could have heard a pin drop during her beautiful rendition of “Don’t Explain”. The saxophonist again took center stage for “The Look of Love” from her I Love You album. (It’s a song she also recorded when she was with The Supremes that appeared on 2004’s Lost and Found album .) She wore, what was possibly my favorite gown of the evening, a blue, shimmering garment that draped elegantly on her shapely figure.
She sang 25 songs in nearly 2 hours, and still did not perform 9 of her #1 hits. That is quite a catalog. The coupling of “Do You Know Where You’re Going To (Theme from ‘Mahogany’)” with the regal, anthemic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” signaled the start of the evening’s final half hour. This evening “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” sounded majestic and befitting of a woman that has been at the top of her game for 5 decades. Most of all, she seemed to be enjoying every moment of it.
As the screen effectively projected images from important moments in her career, in one of the few times that she addressed the audience, she proclaimed that this tour was dedicated to Michael Jackson. She then proceeded to sing her #1 ballad, “Missing You”, then artfully segued into Michael’s “You Are Not Alone”. The screen projected the famous shot of Michael tenderly embracing Diana. It was a picture that told a million stories. It was an emotional moment that brought several to tears. She ended the moment with the title track from her 2006 I Love You album.
The audience roared for an encore. The lady of course obliged. She returned in a blinding, sparkled gold gown and ripped into “I Will Survive”. She kept the song tight and just long enough. Many fans have expressed hope that this song would be deleted from her repertoire. Not a chance. But as the disco ball turned on the screen, you couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment. Though she recorded it for her Take Me Higher album in 1995, and it was cleverly featured in Kevin Kline’s movie ‘In & Out’ from 1997, it will always be identified with Gloria Gaynor. But for a moment, the well-worn chorus endured once again.
Detroit is not the homecoming it once was. Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson and Suzanne dePasse have long since taken up residence in Los Angeles, taking with them, the heart and soul of Motown. In years past, Miss Chapman, the arbiter of the definitive Artist Development classes during Motown’s heyday, would be in attendance at Diana’s Detroit concerts. This evening, only her sister Rita (reportedly now a resident of Atlanta) and a few extended family members were in the audience. But, looking at the shell- shocked downtown area of Detroit, the recent devastation left by the Kirkpatrick mayoral reign and the continuous downsizing of the automobile industry, Diana’s return to The Fox Theatre was touching. Her home base has been Greenwich, CT for the last 30 years, as well as, having resided in Europe with her now-belated spouse, Arne Naess. When you think of Diana Ross today, you think of a global superstar just as easy residing in her Manhattan condo or London flat. But, she returned to Detroit for one more glorious evening. Detroit welcomed home the skinny girl from the Brewster projects once again. For nearly 2 hours, Diana and Detroit declared that they love each other more today than yesterday.
About the Writer
K. Bonin has worked in the music industry for the last three decades. He describes himself as "a child of Motown and the classic rock era." Having spent the balance of his career at Arista Records, his experience and passion gives him a unique perspective on music and the music industry.