Neil Diamond 2001-2002 Concert Reviews

Orlando, FL - February 17, 2002



Diamonds shine, faux real

By Jim Abbott | Sentinel Pop Music Writer
Posted February 19, 2002

It's reassuring to hear from Neil Diamond, the original sensitive guy, that all men have a tender side.

"Every one of us has a sensitive place inside, a place that can be touched," Diamond tells the adoring women packing the crowd Sunday at the TD Waterhouse Centre. "I got that from Oprah Winfrey."

That's a cute one-liner, but anyone within earshot of a radio in the 1960s and '70s knows that Diamond set the gold standard for transforming emotions into unforgettable pop songs long before Oprah came along.

After all these years, the songs retain their timeless appeal.

And if you don't think there are other sensitive guys out there, don't take it from Neil.

Just look at Denny Diamond.

Exactly 48 hours before Neil Diamond takes the stage, Denny Diamond is already hard at work.

"Know this one?" he asks over the karaoke background introduction to "Cracklin' Rosie." "Sing it with me."

For a Neil Diamond impersonator, this weekend gig in the clubhouse at Vista del Lago, a manufactured home community along the tourist strip on U.S. Highway 192, seems perfectly timed. Yet timing really doesn't enter into it.

"I'm working somewhere pretty much every weekend of the year," says Denny Diamond, 42, whose last name is Svehla when he's not on stage. "I have a lot of fun with the show. I don't try to go out there and be Neil. Honestly, I don't think I sound that much like him."

Actually, he does. Close your eyes when he performs "Song Sung Blue" or "Sweet Caroline" and the gravelly baritone is an uncanny match. Only the face, better suited for Tim Allen's stunt double, betrays the illusion from beneath a thick head of raven-black hair.

Neil would kill for this hair. So would a few retirees in the sold-out crowd of 300, who paid $8 for Denny's two-hour performance.

"I like him better," says Marla Gossan, a retired boutique owner from Escanaba, Mich., who cornered the faux Diamond for a souvenir photo. "He's younger and I like his trousers. He's more personable and outgoing than Neil Diamond."

She hasn't met the real Diamond, of course, but not for lack of interest.

"I tried to get tickets for his shows the past three years in Milwaukee and it's always sold-out. So for $8, you get younger, better looking, more hair and a great body."

You also get a singer willing to chat with his fans in the rest room, where Denny fields questions from men in comfortable khakis and practical shoes while brushing his hair between shows.

"I bet you have a lot of fun up there," one man offers.

"Can you tell?" Denny says with friendly sarcasm. "Come on!"

Old-school showmanship

Back at the arena, Neil's the one with relaxed-fit trousers, and his glittery red shirt is less gaudy than one might expect.

No fog machines or strobe lights either.

Consider it a testament to the power of the music and the style of the man who created it. Hits flow so seamlessly that it's as if someone cracked open the best jukebox in town:

"Solitary Man." "Cherry, Cherry." "Play Me." "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon." "I Am, I Said." "I'm a Believer." "Sweet Caroline."

Even with a slight paunch and noticeably thinning hair, there is much G-rated flirting. In "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," Diamond sprawls on his stomach to nuzzle with an excited woman in the front row. The music stops, and he feigns exhaustion:

"Where am I? And does anybody have a cigarette?"

When his age becomes potentially awkward in a romantic duet with a considerably younger backup singer on "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," he deftly anticipates the issue by politely noting that she's married to another band member.

That's old-school showmanship and it's combined with the kind of songs that they truly don't write anymore. Despite the antics, Diamond smartly keeps the emphasis on the music, which is flawlessly executed by a veteran 17-piece band. The payroll would blow Denny's budget for leather pants.

Crisp syncopated horns jump-start "I'm a Believer" and provide regal sustained chords in "Solitary Man." Pedal steel guitar gives a bluesy edge to the opening verse of "Red, Red Wine." And percussionist King Errisson contributes inventive polyrhythmic textures, especially on the African-flavored "Soolaimon."

At 61, Diamond does little more than sway, but he employs a pair of gyrating backing singers in slinky dresses who could have jumped off Tina Turner's tour bus.

In the lobby, there are $49 hooded sweatshirts and $45 denim tops that show it's a long way from Vista del Lago. There are lines for the rest rooms and $8 won't buy a beer and parking.

But so what?

That really is Neil Diamond up there and for two hours on Sunday he showed that he's worthy of imitation.

Even Denny knows he's not in the same league.

Shtick sparkles

In tight leather slacks and an assortment of puffy sequined shirts with fringe on the sleeves, the former computer programmer from suburban Chicago basks in the playful adoration of the Vista del Lago crowd with a knowing wink.

Denny Diamond strolls and works the room, taking a woman's hand as he sits next to her to sing "Longfellow Serenade." As the song ends, the woman fans her face in a mock swoon. Denny is on to his next routine.

"Without my sparkly shirt and my leather pants, what would I be?" he asks, teasingly. "Naked!"

He frequently mentions how heavy and hot his shirt feels. "Take it off!" a woman shouts at one point. The crowd roars and Denny chuckles.

Two women attempting to return to their seats in the middle of a song plot their route strategically. They know that if they walk by him at the wrong moment, they'll be in the show.

Despite the sex-appeal shtick, the tribute is done with obvious respect, with the possible exception of an "irreverent" "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" featuring Denny's brother Pete as Barbra Streisand.

Later, the brothers praise Diamond's music as the real spark for the charisma.

"It's just the songs," Denny says. "They're just timeless."

"It's almost like they don't care that it's not really Neil Diamond," Pete adds. "They just like the music."

Whatever it is, something amid the karaoke backing band, fog machine and strobe lights makes the audience burst into spontaneous applause for the chorus of "September Morn."

Just as if it were Neil.

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