Neil Diamond 2001-2003 Concert Reviews / Photos

Worcester, MA - September 13-14, 2002

photo by Shelley Beckwith

Diamond shines for full house at Centrum

Saturday, September 14, 2002

By Scott McLennan
From the Worcester TELEGRAM

Music Review

photo by Nancy Gentes
WORCESTER-- To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the Worcester Centrum Centre chose to serve comfort food, the main course being a Neil Diamond concert.
     Diamond, a dependable crowd pleaser, worked his well-known charms to a sold-out house last night in the first of a two-night stand. With his seasoned road band locked into his every move and a catalog of nearly 40 years worth of hits, Diamond punched all the right buttons in a show that ran just over two hours. Only if Diamond had trotted out the Jesse Burkett All-Star Little League team during the opening number of “America” could he possibly have gotten a better response.
     Diamond cherry-picked his song book to offer a fair representation of all the eras of his lengthy career. He covered the innocent pop hits of his early years via “Cherry Cherry” and “I'm A Believer,” his fondness for Tin Pan Alley songcraft came through on “Beautiful Noise,” and at 61, Diamond can still make the ladies swoon with such ballads as “Hello Again” and “You Don't Bring Me Flowers.”
photos by Patti Brennan
     And while all those songs ride along a particular wave of kitsch, Diamond's real appeal rests in his large array of truly eccentric songs. Granted, nothing he does strays too far from a prescribed pop arrangement. But there's something downright inscrutable about such songs as “I Am ... I Said,” “Play Me,” “Shilo,” and “If You Know What I Mean.”
     What pushes any Diamond song over the top is its delivery. With his oak-solid voice still in fine shape, Diamond grimaces and flails his free hand (the other gripping the microphone with equal intensity) in a manner that evokes religious fervor. You know he's sung these songs a million times; he knows he's sung these songs a million times. But by God, Diamond is bent on selling you his goods the old-fashioned way: with showmanship.
     And frankly, there's plenty to embrace when a singer brings along a 17-piece band, uses a sleek and effective light show, performs on a majestic stage and is not above a little flag waving. It's all so schmaltzty that you have to accept it as sincerely-rendered schmaltz.
     Well maybe not all of it. The affected rowing pantomiming during “The Boat That I Row” was a bit much. And the way Diamond rendered “You Don't Bring Me Flowers,” with backup singer Lisa Press playing the Barbra Steisand part, laid it on a little too thick.
     But such moments were outweighed by the other tricks in Diamond's bag. His turn on acoustic guitar during a segment of oldies that included “Solitary Man” and “Red, Red Wine” was a nice touch. And when Diamond lounged at the lip of the stage and delivered “Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon” to a couple of overheated female fans, the act worked to perfection.
     Diamond's dip into his most recent studio album, “Three Chord Opera,” was brief and mixed. “I Haven't Played This Song In Years” worked well as Diamond unfurled the tale of heartbreak to the accompaniment of his four-piece string section. Its quirky lyrics and strange perspectives make that tune a contender to enter Diamond's pantheon of classics.
     “You Are the Best Part of Me,” however, smacked of shallow songcraft and demonstrated how Diamond can fall prey to maudlin sentiment when he lets down his sense of eccentricity.
     But any bumps were easily smoothed over by Diamond's one-two punch of “Holly Holy” and “Sweet Caroline.” Every band or solo artist with any sort of legacy is capable of rendering a signature moment during a concert. We're talking about The Rolling Stones playing “Satisfaction,” Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York,” Bob Dylan delivering “Like a Rolling Stone,” and so on.
     With Diamond, no moment shined brighter than when he puffed up “Holly Holy” to epic proportions and followed up with the mega singalong “Sweet Caroline” (done to form with a reprise). The bravado, the oddball songs and the chirpy, carefree optimism palpable in a Neil Diamond crowd simply combined at such a moment to expose the man's raw appeal.
     With no shortage of syrupy sentiments, Diamond helped make the Centrum's party a sweet success.

the kiss

catgut gals relaxing after show

Neil leaves for the show

Alan Lindgren & Tom Hensley

above photos by Shelley Beckwith

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