Neil Diamond 2001-2002 Concert Reviews

Washington, DC 9/30/01

 

Music
Neil Diamond, Low-Tech & Uplifting
From the Washington Post - please visit their website!

By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 2, 2001; Page C05

Pop stars have been postponing recent shows, but thankfully Neil Diamond kept his Sunday date with 17,000 fans at MCI Center. We need this sequined old-school crooner, now more than ever. We have nerves that need soothing, tears that need jerking, and we're bottled up with exactly the sort of emotions that Diamond knows how to uncork. His songs -- easy to whistle, uplifting and a little corny -- are perfectly suited for this moment of national anguish.

"In these troubled times I'm told music has a way of healing," said Diamond, one song into his 2 1/2-hour performance. "And if that's the case, then let the healing begin."

He brought little more than a 15-piece band and his melodies; for an arena show, this was a low-tech, understated operation, tastefully restrained and, aside from Diamond's sparkly red shirt, surprisingly un-Vegas. Now 60, he sings stooped ever so slightly at the waist and he pads around the stage slowly and carefully, as if he's worried that he'll pull a hamstring or twist an ankle. When he gets carried away, or needs to underscore an emotion ("I am, I cried"), he'll slowly sweep an open palm around the arena. He takes applause with gestures of dignity and appreciation, like an ice skater at the end of a long program.

From the first chords of "America," his paean to immigration and an inevitable show opener, it was clear that Diamond is still the optimist who believes that nothing ails the world that a catchy chorus couldn't cure. Unlike, say, Barry Manilow, he can spot the five-inch line that separates him from kitsch, which is why there are Neil Diamond tribute bands out there paying sincere homage to the man. He comes off as the sort of guy who'd lend you his lawn mower if you knocked on his door.

Though hardly a spectacle, the concert demonstrated the strength of Diamond's claim to pop songwriting immortality. Yes, he authored "I'm a Believer," a hit for the Monkees. Yes, "Red Red Wine," which plenty of reggae-pop fans assumed UB40 had penned, was his creation. "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" did not come from Urge Overkill, whose version added assassin cool to the "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack. That was Neil's handiwork, too.

Some of the remakes have exceeded the originals. Johnny Cash produced a more convincing "Solitary Man" on his last solo album. And Diamond's band, a polished outfit that included four female violinists in slit skirts, sometimes overwhelmed the material with pure muscle. During his midlife crisis tunes, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and "Love on the Rocks," which were paired in the middle of the set, it was sometimes hard to hear Diamond above the multi-instrumental din.

A few of the songs have acquired an unexpected emotional punch. "September Morn," a lover's lament, seems even more poignant and wistful after last month's tragedy. But Diamond let the songs connect to this crowd without hinting often at any newfound resonance. And why not?

The point of "Forever in Blue Jeans" and "Sweet Caroline," two of many numbers that brought this 45-and-over crowd to its feet, is instantly hummable escapism. More than 25 years into his career, Diamond still knows how to sell and we still are eager to buy. If nothing else, his show gave the lie to the newly popular canard that everything has changed.

 

2001 The Washington Post Company