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Music Review

Diana Ross keeps the smiles, and hits, coming

Upon returning to the Citi Wang Theatre stage for her encore Saturday night, Diana Ross asked the audience what it wanted to hear. The answer didn’t matter, of course; the set list for the concert was nearly unchanged from one she’s been performing at least as far back as 2012, and it was time for her to sway earnestly into “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” regardless. A feint toward spontaneity was fine, but Miss Ross was hardly about to leave anything to chance.

That may seem like a criticism, but in a way, it was the concert’s core strength. There was precious little opportunity to go off script. Songs tumbled one after the other with no dead air: Before the applause for one died out, the band would launch into the next. With one exception toward the end — when she gushed over her adult children’s accomplishments like a proud mother — anything Ross had to say to the crowd was dispatched quickly during intros and instrumental passages.

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The result was a nonstop cavalcade of hits with a depth and momentum that belied the modest 80-minute runtime. Ross could have filled the duration several times over and never even left the Supremes era, but five songs sufficed, from the mandatory (”Stop! In the Name of Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Baby Love”) to the intriguingly curated (the buoyant worry of “My World Is Empty Without You,” the outdated cultural mores of “Love Child”). That left plenty of room for the dizzying array of solo material that followed.

A few minor quibbles aside — a too-busy “Upside Down” was rubbery but not taut, and the volume overwhelmed the baroque “Theme From Mahogany” — Ross’s sharp five-piece band (augmented with three backup singers) did a fine job of veering from the percolating disco of “The Boss” to the simmering “Touch Me in the Morning” when not recapturing the feel of Motown’s ornate orchestrations with a relatively streamlined lineup. It also effortlessly captured the silkiness of “The Look of Love” and the bluesy late-night jazz of Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.”

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More than 50 years after it began dominating the airwaves, Ross’s voice was also up to the challenge, bright on the (many) upbeat numbers and cooing when the time came to downshift. And even when she sang about societal shame, bittersweet resignation, the dread of loneliness, she never once stopped smiling. After all, what reason could Diana Ross have not to smile?


Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@gmail.com.