Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., March 4, 2011
Diana RossAustin City Limits
Live at the Moody Theater, Feb. 27
If ever there was a balmy night to skip the pomp and circumstance of the Academy Awards, it came Sunday, Downtown at the W Hotel. Judging from a fully stocked balcony stretching its arms to the rafters, the local fashion authorities did exactly that. Shockingly, then, other than four dress changes, Diana Ross kept the evening's spectacle to a bare minimum – both her own and the performance's. The latter was all the better for it. The Detroit native, 67 this month, endured a drought of hits early in her tenure at Motown, but beginning with the Supremes breakthrough "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" in 1963, Ross became the assembly line's undisputed queen. Believe the sagging bookshelf of Motown biographies and autobiographies and she's wanted for nothing, personally or professionally, in the almost half-century since then. None of that was on display in the just under 90 minutes Ross was onstage. In fact, Ross rarely addressed the audience, instead keeping her thousand-watt smile working every corner of the venue, whether pushing up her décolletage for the front row or shaking her groove thang. With the Moody's non-ACL stage extended above the floor riser used during tapings, and with the stage set here a pyramid bandstand with a 12-piece backing group, a singer working the front of the stage looks like they're playing almost in the round, the entire house surrounding them. In this light, Ross had only to let herself be adored, and she did. With a waterfall of black tresses and a dazzling red gown to match Dorothy's ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz – and then gold lamé, sapphire blue, pink, and finally an orange sunburst number – Ross opened with 1980 gay anthem "I'm Coming Out," moved into the Spiral Starecase cover tagging a previous tour, "More Today Than Yesterday," and peaked in a six-song Supremes burst: "My World Is Empty Without You," "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "You Can't Hurry Love," and "Love Child." Not even 30 minutes had passed. Musically, a bare piano rhythm drove those half-dozen No. 1 hits until the extended Cuban end jam of "Love Child," which allowed Ross her first outfit change. "Upside Down" and "Touch Me in the Morning" served as something of a Motown encore. The five-man horn section and three backup singers tied Ross' undiminished vocals to a utilitarian music matte, and afterward, arrangements and material then veered to Vegas save for a touch of funk on The Wiz's "Ease on Down the Road." The closing mash-up of "Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" overlapped at both song's wordless soar with the audience all but matching the headliner in vocal liftoff. No medleys, no weird stage raps, no encore. And there was still plenty of time to make the last half of the Oscars. Perfect.