Diana Ross is all smiles and sparkles at the Northrop

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Diana Ross at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis in 2013. Photo credit: Kyndell Harkness for the Star Tribune.

Diana Ross is rightfully credited with engineering the bulk of the modern fashion-plate diva template, but her Tuesday stop at the Northrop Auditorium revealed there’s one defining characteristic to her enduring appeal that today’s crop of pop stars have failed to adopt: unbridled enthusiasm.

Miss Ross – looking at least two decades younger than her 73 years – was pure joy for the entirely of her 75-minute set. There is, of course, some cognitive dissonance when watching a singer shimmy to a salsa-tinged version of a song about childhood poverty. Still, Ross’ old-fashioned showmanship stands in stark contrast to a current field of singers who prove their diva stature through performative levels of fierceness and a fetishized sense of workhorse-like toil. Ross’s pop star worth is proved by how little she makes it actually seem like work. I say to thee, respectfully.

Not that Diana didn’t bring the drama. I lost count of how many times she whipped out that iconic featherweight two-fingered hair flip, and her wardrobe, consisting of sequined caftans and glittering kimono sleeves, can only be described as “shock and awe.” But she was also relentlessly nice and cheerful, making direct conversation and eye contact with members of the crowd and making a point to remark on her past few days in Minnesota and her fondness for our connected “walkways.” At one point she even brought a young girl on stage to dance with her and laughed the entire time.

Musically, the brisk set list was remarkably similar to the one performed four years ago at the Orpheum. As with that visit, the song selection has clearly been crafted as a nostalgia tour, hitting career benchmarks and leaving little room for deep cuts that audiences might not be able to sing along with. The one unexpected admission to the set list, 1979’s “It’s My House,” was a chance for the Boomer-heavy audience to take a brief respite in their seats despite the song’s slinky, danceable Ashford and Simpson groove.

But who can really blame Diana for going heavy on the hits when her oeuvre has so many of the greatest pop songs ever written? After taking the stage to “I’m Coming Out” (obviously, God bless her) and “More Today Than Yesterday,” Ross dove headfirst into a dizzying blitz of Supremes classics, including “Come See About Me,” “My World Is Empty Without You,” and of course, “Stop! In The Name Of Love.”

Following the Supremes section, Ross took a tour of her biggest disco hits (“The Boss,” “Upside Down,” “Love Hangover”) before slowing things down with a few choice ballads, including “Do You Know Where You’re Going To” and “Endless Love,” the latter performed with a background singer in place of Lionel Richie. Unlike her 2013 visit, there was no foray into the jazz standards of Lady Sings The Blues, but “Touch Me In the Morning” was given a lite-jazz makeover perfectly encapsulating the song’s endearingly schmaltzy '70s foundation.

Once criticized for a lack of vocal heft compared to some of her peers, Ross’ pristine, effervescent schoolgirl soprano has held up remarkably well. In her normal range, her delivery barely sounds different than the original recordings and it’s only in her belted notes where her voice has taken on an aged quality that’s heavy on vibrato in a way that flirts with Broadway grand dames like Ethel Merman.

Miss Ross put that newfound gravitas to good use during the show’s final stretch, where the singer leaned heavily into some of her most over-the-top anthems, such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Ross is still inexplicably bypassing a natural encore choice in “Reach Out and Touch” in place of her confusing “I Will Survive” cover, although a quick interpolation of DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” was a welcome twist on what was mostly a calcified set list. Despite the smiles, Diana still has some edge after all.

The crowd: Mostly Baby Boomers eager to dance and clap slightly off beat. A smattering of gays, also mostly older.

Critic’s bias: Obvious adoration for an icon. Although I do think some of the best Supremes songs were after she left the group.

Overheard in the crowd: “I have never seen anything that sparkly in my life”

Random notebook dump: Ashlee Simpson is Diana’s daughter-in-law now and that still doesn’t feel ok to me.

Setlist
I’m Coming Out
More Today Than Yesterday
My World Is Empty Without You
Baby Love
Stop! In the Name of Love
Come See About Me
Can’t Hurry Love
Love Child
The Boss
Touch Me In the Morning
Upside Down
It’s My House
Endless Love
Why Do Fools Fall In Love
Love Hangover
Ease On Down The Road
Do You Know Where You’re Going To?
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
I Will Survive (All I Do Is Win interpolation)

 


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