Richard and I went to see Diana Ross in concert on 8/16/13 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. We'd been looking forward to it for months, and it was such an incredible show. She looks great, she sounds great, and she radiates star quality. The audience was completely ape shit for her, I don't know that I'd ever been in the presence of such high-powered diva adulation. And she ate it up with a spoon! Because you know, no ones loves Miss Ross as much as Miss Ross! Over and over again she raised her arms in her signature capital Y pose - - can you see it? Do it yourself, it feels good. And the audience went coo coo nutty every time.
We went with our friend Steven and his friend Courtney. We all took the PATH train from 33rd St. Courtney saw me scratching my elbow at one point and said:
COURTNEY: Ouch, that looks bad.
ME: Yeah, I got some kind of bite the other day.
COURTNEY: It looks like a spider bite. You know what's good for that? Vinegar.
ME: Thanks, I'll try that.
RICHARD: My mother says that Vagisil is the best thing for something like that.
COURTNEY: Vagisil? Seriously?
RICHARD: She swears by it.
ME (to Courtney): Do you have any with you?
It was one of those kinds of nights. We got to Newark at 7:00, just barely enough time for a quick dinner at Nico, the restaurant at the PAC. The service was quick and gracious - - they took our food orders right when we sat down so they could send the order to the kitchen right away, I thought that was very thoughtful. Then they came back for our drink orders. I had the bib lettuce salad, with bacon, haricots verts, and potatoes - - Richard had the heart of romaine salad with hard boiled egg and parmesan - - and Steven and Courtney both had the macaroni salad. We all shared two desserts, some kind of peach concoction on a shortbread cookie, and a tall slim glass filled with raspberry and fig compote, topped with creme fraiche. Everything was delicious and quick but not rushed.
The NJPAC is a gorgeous venue, it reminded me a lot of the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul, the same reddish wood. A big hall, but very cleverly laid out, there didn't appear to be a bad seat in the joint, wonderful sight lines. We were in the second tier, very nice seats. The concert was sold out, natch.
She had a killer band, twelve people: trumpet, trombone, two saxophones (who both played flute on "Do you know where you're going to?"), electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, other percussion (like congas), keyboards (he often played piano with his right hand and electric keyboard with his left hand), and three backup singers (two women, one man). They were all TIGHT.
The audience screamed their heads off for the few minutes between when the band started playing and she came onstage. Then she came onstage, wearing a bright red sparkly dress with a bright red Muppet wrap (the texture reminded me of those eight-foot prehistoric Muppets), singing "I'm coming out", and the audience (many of whom at come out in the seventies) entered a new realm of frenzy.
"I love you more today than yesterday" was next. This is a song that Richard often sang to me when we were dating - - I didn't know that Miss Ross recorded it, but it's a great song for her. She took off her wrap to reveal that her bright red dress had batwing sleeves. I wasn't there, but I heard tell that Joanne Worley wore a similar dress when she did *Gypsy* at the Melody Top in Milwaukee in 1984.
"My world is empty without you, babe". "Baby love". "Stop in the name of love", with the obligatory hand gestures, Miss Ross leading the audience in a sing-along (and gesture-along). The NJPAC was the world's biggest karaoke bar! "Can't hurry love" - - is it blasphemy to say that I prefer the Phil Collins cover of that song?
"Touch me in the morning", my favorite Diana Ross song, though it's never made much sense to me. I want you to touch me in the morning, but I do not want you to then just walk away, I want you to stay where you are and continue touching me. But hey, to each his own. The guitar player took a George Benson-esque solo, and Miss Ross pulled out a giant bright red fan and fanned herself, to the great amusement of the audience.
"Love child" led to an extended riff for the band while Miss Ross went offstage to change. I mean no disrespect to Miss Ross, but the most satisfying moments of the evening, musically speaking, were these moments where the stage was left to the band. It must be cold there in her shadow, and they really cut loose and raised the temperature, it was very satisfying. I turned to Richard during this first break and said, "What color gown do you think she'll be wearing when she comes back?" He guessed white.
But I was right, her gown was electric blue, covered with spangles, very Bob Mackie for Mitzi Gaynor. She did "Who's the boss", a song I don't know (Richard says it has no relation to the TV show). "Upside down". "Love hangover", another of her very greatest songs. To quote Little Richard, that song makes my toe go up in my boot. If there's a cure for this, I don't want it!
Can we talk about her hair? A full head of black corkscrew curls, glorious. Cost a pretty penny, I'm sure.
"Take me higher", another song I don't know. I think it was during this song that some pushy gay man in the front row started shoving a bouquet at her (probably some tacky carnations he bought for $10 in Jersey City). She made a great show of standing in front of him but not paying him any attention. To the great amusement of the audience. This set ended with "Ease on down the road", such a killer beat in that song, and the band tore the joint apart in their riff.
Miss Ross came back in a black sequined gown with an acid yellow feathered wrap. The alto sax player brought her onstage by playing "The look of love", another song we don't associate with Miss Ross, but perfect for her. Nice that Burt Bacharach could be honored, especially after I was so snarky to him in my Project Runway column earlier that day. Her *Lady Sings the Blues* tribute was "Don't explain", beautiful song. She fanned herself some more, with a large black fan. Each of the wind players took solos, and she took off her wrap to show off the peek-a-boo feature along the sides of the dress. I raised my eyebrows - - the dress, from armpit to ankle, had a three-inch strip of chiffon, revealing (it seems) nothing but Miss Ross. At the age of 69, going without a traditional bra and definitely without panties? Or maybe she was wearing a full body stocking? I will always wonder.
"Why do fools fall in love?" Why do they, by the way? Her next song was a song we didn't know, another riff from the band, and she came back onstage in her last outfit, a tangerine sparkly gown and a wrap with a hood and feathers at the wrist. High diva. "Do you know where you're going to?" Do you, by the way? I think it was during this song that she deigned to collect the flowers from that persistent man in the front row. He reached up to her with great urgency, and she said, "I'm afraid you're going to pull me off the stage!" Then just walk away.
"Ain't no mountain high enough". Complete mania from the audience. She was playing us like a Paderewski. She talked a little after this song, said what a great audience we were and how much she loves us. Did I get a little teary? Miss Ross was saying how much she loves ME! She collected more flowers, put them on the platform behind her - - one of the bouquets fell on the floor and the nearest backup singer picked it up and put it back. Where would Miss Ross be without her help?
She talked a little before the last song (before the encore), teased us a little. She wondered if the time was right to do the next song. She felt the time was right, because Miss Gloria Gaynor was there! And she came onstage and the two of them did "I will survive"! Can you imagine the roaring and the shrieking. At first I was afraid - - I was petrified! Gloria looked a little slobby - - she was wearing a brown and beige floral shmatte, an off white blouse, and black slacks. But she sounded great and totally commanded the stage. The two of them together, it was freakin' historic.
Her encore was "Reach out and touch somebody's hand". A nice mellow way to end a frenzied evening, it sent everyone out feeling warm, happy, and deeply satisfied. Though not everyone was entirely satisfied - - we ran into a high swish friend of Steven's on the PATH going home, earlier that week he had (naturally) done a couple of performances at a small cabaret venue in midtown. He was deeply disappointed that Miss Ross didn't do "Reflections". You can please some of the people some of the time...
One final thing, in closing: I know you must follow the sun wherever it leads, but remember if you should fall short of your desires, remember life holds for you one guarantee - - you'll always have me. And if you should miss my lovin', one of these old days, if you should ever miss the arms that used to hold you so close, or the lips that used to touch yours so tenderly, just remember what I told you the day I set you free! Ain't no mountain high enough, etc.