“You know I’ve been singing since I was 14, right?” Diana Ross tells a packed crowd at Leeds’s First Direct Arena. She gives an exaggerated wink. “That was only yesterday!”
It might feel that way to the veteran queen of Motown, but for her adoring legions of fans on British shores, this has been a reunion several years in the making. It’s a decade-and-a-half since the Detroit native last crossed the pond to play for them – and the world she steps back into is vastly changed to the one she left behind in 2008 on her previous visit.
This jaunt has already been twice delayed thanks to Covid-19, and a headline performance during the Platinum Party at the Palace celebrations earlier this month did not necessarily do much to settle the butterflies in the stomach. But if Ross has shown anything before across her career, it is that you never write her off – and across a briskly entertaining ninety-minute showcase that’s as tight as a drum, she defies the odds once more to deliver an unabashed good time.
Split across a handful of acts facilitated by a succession of striking costume changes, the 78-year-old arrives to the disco-strut of I’m Coming Out, and seldom lets up for the following hour-and-a-half.
Backed by a 14-piece band over a simple two-riser structure, it’s a remarkable feat of amber-preserved brilliance; a litany of Sixties-chime soul and Seventies-gilt showstopper ballads. The crowd get to their feet for a succession of Supremes classics – My World Is Empty Without You, Baby Love, Stop! In the Name of Love, You Can’t Hurry Love – and never sit back down.
At the centre of it all, Ross stands unbowed; slower on her feet, but impressively full-throated for a singer who could have long stuck her feet up and put the kettle on. She works her audience with a Vegas showman’s aplomb; when Chain Reaction and I’m Still Waiting are followed by fans screaming for her hand in marriage, she gives a coy smile.
The deeper she goes, the more curveballs appear – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is backed by a boisterous run through Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, and she takes requests from die-hards on the front row for her encore.
“Can you feel the music?” she shouts during the dance party that breaks out with Upside Down. It seems, after all these years, she certainly still can.