By Bob Andelman
October 4, 1986

Diana Ross hits are getting shorter as the years grow longer.

Songs such as “I’m Coming Out,” “Rescue Me,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” “Swept Away” and a few others have been compressed to one- and two-minute versions in the singer’s latest show, witnessed Wednesday evening at the Bayfront Center arena.

There is no catch. These were not pieces of medleys; Ross was passing them off as whole songs.

When she did start a medley, doing snippets of “Baby Love” and “Stop! In the Name of Love,” the diva snapped.

“Could I have some coffee?” she asked the startled audience of 6,910 people.

Complaining that her throat was raspy, Ross turned to her band and said, “I wonder if I could change the … What was I going to do?”

Several times during the night, the band started to play, and Ross, baffled, turned to her pianist. He then would feed her the first few words to a tune and get her started.

Ross has a lot of silly, plastic bits she does with the audience – the arm waving of “Reach Out and Touch” comes to mind, as does the male striptease during “Muscles” – but this interchange with her musicians seemed too bizarre to be rehearsed.

“What are you playing?” she asked the band. “Oh? … I don’t know … I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” When the crowd cheered, she turned angrily. “I need quiet when I think!”

She was pleasantly inspired, as it turned out, and launched into three, full, lush numbers from her film, “Lady Sings the Blues.” Ross has a great big voice, but these smoky Jazzers represented the few instances all night when she put it to work.

Although Ross did reappear for three encores in three different costumes, she seemed to work up genuine excitement only for the third, a six minute, upbeat version of “Swept Away,” dancing and singing her little heart out.

Had La Ross presented her talents in their entirety for an hour, it no doubt would have been something to write home about. Instead, she takes her fans for granted.

Anybody who would pay $21.75 or $18.75 for a ticket probably is predisposed to liking a performance; the singer seemed to want to get away with as little creativity and effort as she could while laughing all the way to the bank.

For the money people paid to see Ross, it’s a shame to say she didn’t give them value. But it isn’t a difficult statement to support.

There were the ridiculously short versions of the old songs. This would have been more acceptable if it were a vehicle to fit in more songs, but Ross must have wasted 20-25 minutes of her 1 3/4-hour show wandering aimlessly into the seats and whining about the sound quality.

Actually, Ross had a point about the sound produced by the theater-in-the-round arrangement. It was pretty poor.

But instead of whispering quietly to her production people, she made the problem all the more apparent to the crowd by standing in the wings, and announcing:

“You know, I can’t even hear the music here! Where are the speakers?”

Someone pointed to the ceiling. Ross actually seemed surprised to see them there, then pretended to be a member of the audience. “We can’t hear the music. We’re going home!”

That wasn’t the end of it, though. She walked up to speakers on the floor, pushed her fabulous, fluffy mane aside and listened. “It’s not coming through here!” she said.

As the second half of the program began, Ross did her two-minute rendition of “Swept Away.” She followed it with “Telephone” (from the “Swept Away” album).

“This (“Telephone”) gives me the opportunity to play with the band,” she said, making one wonder whom she was playing with before. “The groove is good … More bass! More bass! … Jack – more bass! Can I have some keyboards and bass here? … Need some more congas!”

The last word on the amplification carne at the beginning of her second encore.

“I hope the sound has been OK for you,” she said. “For me, up here, it’s been horrid.”

Two years ago, Diana Ross performed a memorable concert at the Bayfront Center. Folks seem to recall it because of her tirade aimed at them for arriving late and distracting her while they found their seats.

It didn’t happen this time, for good reason.

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention?” came the voice over the public address system. “The show will begin in l0 minutes. No one will be seated after the first 10 minutes!”

Should someone have missed that announcement it was repeated at l0 and five minutes before the show, and again during intermission.

When Ross came onstage, she said, “They told me tonight it was two years since I was here last. I told you – if you need me, call me.”

Don’t sit by the phone, Diana.

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