Live Review: Diana Ross at Lytham Festival
By Jay Darcy
Exactly two weeks after seeing her at the AO Arena in Manchester, I was lucky enough to catch Diana Ross (aka the Original Diva) for the second time, when she opened Lytham Festival in my home county of Lancashire!
Whilst seeing her again after just two weeks is pretty soon, I was in attendance with former Managing Editor of The Mancunion, Georgina Davidson, who had seen her at Glastonbury two days prior!
Further, Ms Ross is my favourite 20th century artist – along with the late, great Whitney Houston, who I cannot possibly see live (I mean, I did see that hologram, but let’s not talk about it). So, how could I possibly pass on the opportunity to see her once more on her first (and farewell) UK tour in 15 years?!
Setting the Scene
We sadly missed the support act, Olivier winner and Brit nominee Cassidy Janson. I interviewed Janson ahead of the world premiere of & Juliet, along with the rest of the main cast. Janson absolutely stole the show when I caught its press night – that Olivier is well-deserved. We could hear Janson from a mile off, and whilst it was disappointing to miss her set entirely, I’ve no doubt that I’ll see her again someday – she is going from strength to strength.
The special guest was Jack Savoretti – who I have liked for years. I had the chance to see him last year but was just a little too busy (as if that’s changed). I first became aware of Savoretti when I was working at Costa Coffee in Next in Manchester Arndale – whilst Costa’s music is questionable, we played Next’s playlist, which includes a nice mix of bops and BOPS – such as Savoretti’s ‘Whiskey Tango’ (which, sadly, he did not sing).
My other favourite “Next” songs, so to speak, were James Cherry‘s ‘Why Don’t You Listen’ and Disclosure‘s ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’ (featuring London Grammar). Frankly, the music was the only good thing about working at that store, but let’s not revisit my trauma…
Savoretti’s deep, husky voice is entirely eargasmic. Even his talking voice – which he describes as “transatlantic mutt”, due to his mixed background and constant moving around as a child – is an aural delight.
His music is a blend of several genres: acoustic, alternative rock, folk rock, indie pop, and Americana – the latter being the name of his latest studio album.
Savoretti’s stage presence and calm, collected confidence added to his appeal. He embraced the audience and took us on a musical journey that included an excellent cover of Dusty Springfield‘s ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.’ His wolfish tone rivalled Dusty’s signature smoker’s singing voice.
His set was certainly superior to the one given by Zak Abel at AO Arena – though Abel only found out he was opening for Ms Ross the day before, and whilst Savoretti had a sizeable set, Abel had very little stage time.
She’s Coming Out
The weather was pretty bad. After raining pretty heavily on the drive over to Lytham, it calmed down. That was until Ms Ross finally arrived, when the weather turned. Wet and windy is not a vibe – especially not for the Original Diva. Alas, there was nothing we could do; we just had to embrace it and enjoy ourselves.
Shortly before Ross arrived, a faint rainbow appeared, engrossed in light fog. Ross, as always, came out to ‘I’m Coming Out’, so the rainbow was a nice (albeit unintentional) touch – especially during Pride Month.
Whilst the setlist for Ross’ Thank You Tour has been almost the same at every date so far, the costumes have not. Some artists do not have a costume change but wear a different outfit at every concert. Others have multiple costume changes but wear the same (or similar) set of costumes at each date. Ross, though, has several costume changes at each show – and every costume at every concert is different. They don’t call her the Original Diva for nothing!
She arrived onstage drowning in a huge, blue, coat-like thing, which she later dropped, revealing a glittery, blue, long, skirt and a glittery, white top, with a bat-wing sleeves. Her mermaid-like skirt was fitting, for we were right by the sea!
She then sang ‘More Today Than Yesterday’ – a little-known song but a staple of her concerts – before taking us back into time to her days with The Supremes (or, Diana Ross and the Supremes).
Sadly, the Supremes’ first hit, ‘Where Did Our Love Go’, was omitted from the setlist after the second show of the UK tour, and it has not reappeared since. Instead, the song was replaced with ‘My World is Empty Without You’ – and I know I said this in my review of her Manchester concert, but why would you replace such an important song with that?
Next up was the band’s second hit – and their most notable UK hit – ‘Baby Love.’ This was followed by ‘Stop! In the Name of Love’, ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ and ‘Love Child.’ At the first date, she sang ‘Come See About Me’ in between the two ‘Love’ songs, but that was quickly (and sadly) dropped.
She came back onstage wearing a sleeveless black dress. It was surprisingly simple, but it was paired with a huge piece of purple material – a statement piece, if ever there was one.
To my delight, she began this section with ‘The Boss’, which she had done at the first concert, but the song was then cut from the setlist. It’s my favourite Ross song, so I was gutted that she did not sing it in Manchester – that was until an amazing audience member requested it in the encore (before an audacious audience member requested ‘Home’). It was nice to see Ross stand for ‘The Boss’, after sitting for the entire song in Manchester.
The screen showed a recreation of her star on the Hollywood walk of fame – the message: Ms Ross is the Boss.
Most of the crowd were not as into ‘The Boss’ as I was – it was not a huge hit here in the UK. However, it was followed by ‘Chain Reaction’ – one of her biggest UK hits (albeit not a US hit). She then performed ‘I’m Still Waiting’, which touched on the audience’s emotion, before she got us all grooving with a long-ass performance of ‘Upside Down’ – one of her signature hits.
This was followed by a dazzling dance meets disco medley of ‘Love Hangover’, ‘Take Me Higher’, and ‘Ease on Down the Road’ (her duet with Michael Jackson from The Wiz). Ross then eased on, I mean off, the stage.
She came back onstage wearing a sparkly silver dress and a huge fur coat, giving Cruella De Vil a run for her money – though hopefully the fur was faux, and certainly not dalmatian!
She began this section with the wonderful ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’ before a painful rendition of ‘If We Hold on Together.’ She told us that she was going to struggle with it because of the effect the bad weather had had on her voice (and, no doubt, the busy touring schedule – especially at her age). The performance kind of killed the vibe. A woman turned to me and said “oh, stop” – and whilst I thought she was referring to the wind and rain, she was actually referring to Ms Ross! It probably should have been left off the setlist.
Ross then sang what seems to be her favourite song from her new album – ‘If the World Just Danced’ – because she has sang it at every date so far (even the title song, ‘Thank You’, has not been sang at every date – it wasn’t at Manchester, to my disappointment). It was a fun, fabulous performance that got the crowd grooving – even though, I imagine, most of the audience had never heard the song before.
She then lost her coat, revealing long, draping sleeves, before singing another one of my favourite songs from the new album – ‘Tomorrow’ – in what I think was its live debut.
She then returned to her hits, with live performances of ‘Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To’ and ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ – the latter of which was a real riot with the crowd.
She briefly left the stage and returned with a glittery, gold jacket on top of the same silver dress. She sang her glorious cover of Gloria Gaynor‘s signature hit, ‘I Will Survive.’
As in most of the shows on this tour, the encore consisted solely of ‘Thank You’ – the title song from Ross’ latest studio album and her first single (that is not a remix of an old song) since 2006!
As aforementioned, she did not sing it in Manchester, so it was great to hear it live in Lytham. Whilst the other new songs she sang are dance tracks designed to sound modern (albeit a little dated – perhaps intentional, for Ross is not a “modern” artist), ‘Thank You’ is a beautiful blend of old and new. There is a Motown-like sound to it, but it’s also contemporary. It was an epic end to a cold but captivating concert.
Diana Ross’ Thank You Tour has now left the UK, but Ross is playing two festivals in continental Europe – Starlight Festival (Spain) and North Sea Jazz Festival (the Netherlands) – and then returning to her home country of the United States for the last few dates of the tour.