Neil Diamond 2001-2002 Concert Reviews

Buffalo, NY - February 28, 2002

News Pop Music Critic

022802.jpg (5036 bytes)Let's get something out of the way right off the bat; Neil Diamond is an over-the-top performer whose songs, when they aren't flat-out courting lovers of Las Vegas excessiveness, are treading the tightrope between the kitschy and the just plain cheesy.

That said, the sold-out crowd that packed HSBC Arena last night got exactly what it had come for.

Neil Diamond is an American legend, one of the few artists who can pack arenas in every city in the country, regardless of shifts in popular taste.

Diamond's show might have belonged at Caesar's Palace in Vegas, but the Buffalo crowd ate it up, from the opening notes of the hyperbolic anthem "America," until Diamond, 61, took his final bow.

In between, the rabid Diamond audience was treated to an extended set consisting almost exclusively of classics form their hero's canon. Did the show lack spontaneity? Were Neil's between-song dialogues preplanned? Will Diamond play the exact same set he played tonight again tomorrow, in another city? These folks couldn't have cared less.

Diamond delivered the goods, strutting about the stage like a man half his age, winking at the girls, executing his patented shuffle - guitar strapped high across his chest, legs together, knees bent, rocking from one leg to the other - and generally hamming it up like Elvis in his later years. Diamond even appropriated a few of the King's classic "karate" moves, spreading his arms wide like a matador, stomping his heels in all his flamenco dancer glory.

Ridiculous? That depends who you ask.

Fronting a 17-piece band, Diamond churned out the hits like a well-worn jukebox, pausing only long enough to drive the crowd to the point of frenzy with his easy-going banter and button-pushing references to the tragedies of Sept. 11. (Such moments were not among the highlights of the evening, to say the least.)

Opener "America" led straight away into a string of Diamond classics, including "Solitary Man," "Red Red Wine," I'm A Believer," "If You Know What I Mean" and "Forever In Blue Jeans." All of these songs appear on the recently-released "The Essential Neil Diamond" two-disc set. That album is currently charting, selling enough copies in the midst of an industry downturn to prove that Diamond has staying power. He's been at this for nearly 40 years, folks.

It would have been nice to hear a more stripped-down Diamond at some point during the night, especially when he reached back for a handful of his best songs - "Solitary Man," "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" and "Sweet Caroline" - which boasted subtler arrangements in their original, recorded form. It was not to be, though. Diamond is all showman and his audience is fine with that, thank-you very much.

Neil Diamond is a consummate performer. He puts on a stellar show. He has never fulfilled his initial promise as a songwriter, however, and that's a shame. If you know what I mean.

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