Diana Ross review – Motown legend still has the moves

AO Arena, Manchester
Septuagenarian star builds a rollercoaster of euphorically received pop classics – and throws in a bit of aerobics

‘You guys know that I’m 78 years old?” yells Diana Ross, should anyone watching be thinking their eyesight is playing tricks on them. Midway through 1980’s Chic-penned disco smash dunk Upside Down, she has turned the UK’s largest concert venue into a gigantic aerobics class, with the grinning septuagenarian singer as personal trainer. “I’ve still got the moves,” she beams.

She has, and she’s making every second count in this twice delayed (owing to Covid) first UK tour in 15 years. She began this British visit with a shaky-then-triumphant performance at the Queen’s platinum jubilee, and is due to grace Glastonbury’s “legends” slot next Sunday. There will presumably be more euphorically received emotional rollercoasters such as this one, which spans the Motown star’s career from early Supremes hits to last year’s lockdown-recorded album, Thank You.

The 90-minute show is cleverly segmented into sections divided by a band interlude – which allow the singer to catch her breath as well as change into an array of magnificently OTT outfits, the best of which, an array of orange tulle ending in a train, makes her look like a glorious bird of paradise.

The setlist begins with another Chic-penned smash, I’m Coming Out, in its twin role as perfect entrance song and LGBTQ+ anthem, before she rolls back the years with a string of Supremes classics. She brings an exquisite touch of hurt to My World Is Empty Without You and smiles as the audience accompany the famous “Ooh, ooh” beginning of Baby Love.

Stop! In the Name of Love et al are some of the greatest pop singles ever made, and to hear them sounding exactly as they should almost 60 years later is a pinch-yourself moment. Thereafter it’s on to her solo career, and highlights such as 1985 Bee Gees-penned No 1 Chain Reaction and 1976’s Love Hangover, a trip to disco heaven. She reveals that during Covid isolation she feared she’d never perform again, so cheered herself by penning If the World Just Danced, an unexpected highlight which sees her turn into a house music diva.

In truth, it would have been nicer to hear Touch Me in the Morning, Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand) or Reflections rather than the covers of hits by Frankie Lymon (Why Do Fools Fall in Love) and Gloria Gaynor (an overlong but appropriate I Will Survive).

Still, maybe an audience can only take so many Ross classics before requiring oxygen. She sings I’m Still Waiting beautifully reflectively, and if her voice falters during Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To) it soars through Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

She ends sat on a chair as fan requests result in the seemingly unscripted The Boss, then Home, from 1978 film The Wiz. It’s a lovely, rarely heard song although a slightly low-key note on which to end a mostly stellar performance. Still, who would want to quibble with Ms Ross?

• At First Direct Arena, Leeds, tonight, then touring the UK until 1 July.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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