Madonna was barely out of diapers and Lady Gaga was years away from breathing her first when the rock era's original diva, Diana Ross, began thrilling millions with her sexy-sweet voice and glam persona. And more than four decades later, she remains the gold standard for female pop stars.
That, at least was the takeaway from her Friday night performance at Caesars Atlantic City.
Combining nearly a half-century of indelible hits, a sharp, if understated, corps of mucsicans and backup singers (including a five-piece string section) and slick, streamlined staging, Ross thrilled the devoted Circus Maximus showroom crowd with a 90-minute "Greatest Hits" set.
Making a dramatic entrance by appearing--in an electric yellow, full-length, feathered coat--on a lift launched from below the stage, the 66-year-old icon proved to be in impressive voice as she launched into a virtual non-stop survey of her glittering career. Each decade of her pop-chart primacy was well represented, from the Supremes' precedent-setting 1960s run ("Stop In the Name of Love," "You Can't Hurry Love," "Love Child") to her flying-solo days of the '70s and '80s ("Theme From Mahogany," "Touch Me In the Morning," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Upside Down," "Mirror, Mirror").
Throughout the show, Ross (who modeled four snazzy gowns during the proceedings) was never less than spot-on with her vocals. This was especially true on the Supremes' tunes, during which the sound of her voice was virtually identical to that on the nearly half-century-old recorded versions.
Although Friday's set was a love fest from start to finish, Ross did flash her celebrated temper early on as she and the band launched into "You Can't Hurry Love." The song's irrisistable beat caused some audience members to abandon their seats and rush to the front of the stage. Ross responded by stopping the song and angrily upbraiding the transgressors for blocking the view of others, insisting that "even theaters in New York" don't witness such disrespect for audince members.
The offenders sheepishly retreated and she took the song from the top, and by doing so, she earned one of the night's most vociferous ovations.
There was one curious aspect to the concert: Despite the presence of a giant state-of-the-art LED video screen (upon which were shown countless archival photos) not once did the crowd see a close up of Ross. The more cynical among us might surmise it was because shedidn't want anyone to see her lip-synching, she felt she didn't look good enough for such a display, or both.
From where I was sitting, it was impossilble to address the former; as for the latter, she certainly looked maahvelous to these eyes. So here's hoping those who think that way are wrong. It would be a shame to spoil the memory of such a dazzling performance.