Reviews of Diana Ross and Tank and the Bangas at Jazz Fest Saturday, and picks for Sunday to close out the festival.

diana ross photo
Diana Ross

My expectations were low-ish for Diana Ross at Jazz Fest. I didn’t expect disaster or a cynically mailed in set, but a quasi-engaged casino show seemed possible. That possibility remained for the first 20 minutes as Ross worked her way with machine-like efficiency through The Supremes songbook, not stopping to talk between between songs. You could see flickers of anxiety in her face that would go away as the set progressed. Fortunately, those songs are so beloved that the crowd was ecstatic from the start, and when Ross gestured for sing-along moments during “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Come See About Me,” the audience delivered eagerly with enthusiasm.

The set literally became more interesting the moment “Love Child” became a samba. Ross finished the final verse and chorus and, when she disappeared into a blue tent just off stage, the band pulled the samba that was implied in the song to the fore and played it through the first of six wardrobe changes. When she returned in a shiny red gown with straps off the shoulders, she moved into material from her solo career from the ‘70s and ’80s, which was not nearly as well known. Ross has enough hits that she could have stuck simply to them, but she added “The Boss,” “It’s My House” and “Take Me Higher” (from 1995!) to “Love Hangover,” “Endless Love” and “Ease on Down the Road” to make the show more than just a trip down memory lane. She announced that she was 75 during the introduction to "Upside Down," and again, the audience was absolutely with her, whether fueled by the lingering goodwill from The Supremes part, the game way she and her hair fought the wind on the Gentilly Stage, or seeming ease of her performance. It may be that with the red dress, it became clear that we were getting a full, glamorous Diana Ross show, and glamor is as central to who she is as it is rare at Jazz Fest. 

She executed a third costume change while her sax player gave us a very Vegas “The Look of Love” that Ross joined when she emerged in a silver gown. That and a version of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” was disposable but fine, and they led to yet another costume change though time was running out on her set. Oddly, that change made the changes more endearing because they were clearly important to her. They gave her set structure, and she emerged in a cream gown to perform “The Theme from Mahogany” and segued into “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” which served as a communal group hug. The moment was sublime and Ross was iconic in it, head back and arms open, delivering star power as much as a song. And as the band played on, she ducked offstage for yet another costume change, and returned for what has become her standard encore, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” The choice seemed a little obvious and odd for someone with such a deep songbook, but it clearly spoke to her, and for a little added and unexpected juice she folded in a verse of DJ Khalid’s “All I Do is Win.”  

To end the show properly, she made one last wardrobe change and returned not in another gown and boa but in a black workout outfit. In her “That’s All Folks” look, she waved goodbye, told us she loved us, and sent the audience out raving about the set. 

As a weird coda to the story, Ross tweeted this morning about her treatment by TSA at the airport:

diana ross tweet

diana ross tweet

diana ross tweet

Saturday at Jazz Fest started late because of the morning rain, so the crowd was still trickling in during Tank and the Bangas’ set on the Acura Stage. Perhaps for that reason, the audience wasn’t as electric for the band as it had been in the last two years. The band had one of the best years for New Orleans bands last year, touring constantly and building audiences until it was selling out 1,000-seat venues around the country. It was signed to Verve Forecast and released its first album for the label, Green Balloon, on Friday. 

Not surprisingly, they leaned heavily on the album during their set, and because it’s less antic, the set was more chill than some we’ve seen from Tank and the Bangas in recent years. On many of the songs, the band settles into cool grooves that Tank rides with a variety of voices and approaches. Sometimes she rapped, sometimes she sang, and often she adopted a number of voices that seem to speak to each other inside of songs. The songs from Green Balloon are as uncompromising as any that the band has played in the last two years of Jazz Fest, and because of that the set was exciting, but with an audience still filing in and just getting started on the day, it was a tough time to be triumphant. 

Our picks for the last day of Jazz Fest

Jupiter & Okwess of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
12:00 p.m., Congo Square Stage; 3:05 p.m., Cultural Exchange Pavilion World Journey

Yvette Landry and The Jukes
1:50 p.m., Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do Do Stage

Tribu Baharú of Columbia
2:25 p.m., Jazz & Heritage Stage; 4:40 p.m., Cultural Exchange Pavilion World Journey

Panorama Jazz Band
3:05 p.m., Lagniappe Stage
Panorama’s Ben Schenck was a guest on our Christmas music podcast, “The 12 Songs of Christmas”

Chaka Khan
3:25 p.m., Congo Square Stage

Carsie Blanton
4:20 p.m., Lagniappe Stage
Alex Rawls reviewed Blanton’s album So Ferocious in 2016. 

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue with the Nevilles
5:30 p.m., Acura Stage