Ross is brilliant but no longer aloof at Merriweather


It was not so long ago that Diana Ross' career was practically irrelevant.

Yes, the former lead singer of the most popular American group of the last 30 years, with six solo chart toppers to boot, was well on her way to being a has-been, to becoming someone who had totally miscalculated what the public would accept from her.

But if last night's brilliant performance at Merriweather Post Pavilion is any indication, Ross has gotten the message, picked herself off the canvas and is ready to reclaim her diva status.

Actually, Ross spent most of the 100-minute show drawing on the innocence of the days of the Supremes, when a skinny teen-ager from Detroit with a wispy voice and a lot of stage presence held a nation.

Over the years, Ross, who has been savaged in a recent VTC biography as aloof and detached from both her audience and her staff, has indeed struck the pose of arrogance, both figuratively and literally, with her head thrown back and her arms spread apart, as if the world were her private domain.

But, last night, almost as if to apologize for her recent image, she seemed to embrace the relatively sparse but appreciative audience, working her way into the crowd and inviting some members onto the stage to dance with her.

The previously imperious Ross was self-deprecating, gracious and humble, attributes that even her most die-hard fans would admit weren't in her previous repertoire.

One of the other pleasant discoveries of the evening is that Ross, at age 47, and after more than 30 years in the business, is sounding terrific, hitting notes that she only dreamed of just two years ago, when she last appeared here.

With the help of one of the best backup bands seen in these parts this year, Ross blistered through a flawless medley of her hits with the Terrific Trio, applying just the right amount of vulnerability to "You Just Keep Me Hangin' On" to make it shine.

Her set of songs from "Lady Sings The Blues" was priceless, with particular emphasis on "The Man I Love," and the vastly underrated "Good Morning, Heartache."

Alas, there were reminders of those awful days when she left the safety and security of Motown 10 years ago for the lure of being her own woman, the Boss, at RCA. But even the overly juiced "Mirror, Mirror" and the overly giddy "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" worked well.

The most encouraging sign, for her fans at least, is that Ross' forthcoming album, "The Force Behind The Power," has the potential to be a monster hit.

Pulling out five new songs from the album, to be released next month, Ross showed a return to the forms that have made her one of popular music's most enduring stars.

"When You Tell Me That You Love Me" was the typical big Ross ballad, with the trademark sweeping strings and payoff on the chorus, while "Change of Heart," a saucy number on the order of "Upside Down," allowed for playfulness.

Her cover of Stevie Wonder's ballad "Blame It On The Sun," from the "Talking Book" album probably deserved better treatment than the irreverence of singing while traipsing through the audience. But she redeemed it with an enthusiastic working of the new album's title song, which Wonder also wrote.

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