Neil Diamond 2001-2002 Concert Reviews

Detroit, MI October 5-6, 2001

 

Review: Neil Diamond goes with flow of patriotism

From the Flint Journal, please visit their website!
Sunday, October 7, 2001

By Doug Pullen
JOURNAL ENTERTAINMENT WRITER


AUBURN HILLS - The Sept. 11 attacks on America have had a profound effect on us all, riling our anger, sinking our hearts and swelling our patriotism. Neil Diamond is no exception.

His performance Friday at The Palace, the first of two nearly sold-out shows, began with patriotic fervor and ended with a message of brotherly love. It was a little darker, a little more somber and a lot more intense than the hit-filled love fests he usually throws.

Diamond is in the midst of a creative rebirth. At 60, an age when most artists are in full nostalgia mode, Diamond has turned his divorce, the death of loved ones (including longtime band member Vince Charles) and his own sense of impending mortality into the thoughtful introspection of "Three Chord Opera," his first new collection of original material in 27 years.

It's classic Neil Diamond - a little romance, a little schmaltz, a little optimism, a little cynicism and a lot craftsmanship. It sounds like a slicker version of those infectious folk-pop anthems he wrote in the '60s and early '70s.

Diamond's newly reflective mode provides plenty of subtext for his Three Chord Opera tour that launched Sept. 28 in Columbus, Ohio. But the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have sharpened his edge.

Forsaking the in-the-round format that allowed him to pack record crowds into The Palace nearly a decade ago, Diamond's tasteful new white and blond proscenium stage was draped with a large American flag as the crowd of nearly 16,000 people filed in. The flag rose to the rafters during a somewhat sluggish version of "America," which opened the show, where it remained until the end.

The crowd was only mildly enthusiastic at first, but in a scene that would be repeated throughout the night, Diamond's intense delivery and the soaring strains of his 17-piece band soon whipped it into a frenzy.

This bit of literal flag-waving wasn't crass exploitation but a moving, cathartic celebration of nationalistic pride. Diamond used the song's nation-of-immigrants theme to set up his real message.

"Hey, we're on a mission of love," he proclaimed before lighting into "A Mission of Love." The doo-wop ditty isn't one of the best songs on the new album, but it did set the tone for the night.

What followed was a rousing, moody, intense, often inspiring two hours and 27 songs of musical soul-cleansing, not a safe, predictable greatest hits parade. He dedicated "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" to "our heroes," an apparent reference to the firefighters, police officers and rescue workers at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Certain staples remained, of course, including the audience fave, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," his duet with velvet-voiced Linda Press, but he also hauled out a grand piano for one song and devoted a chunk of the show to new songs, including the evocative breakup lament "I Haven't Played That Song in Years," and the forgettable "At the Movies." The new stuff was well-received by the attentive audience.

Diamond was backed by his veteran band, the embodiment of tasteful restraint, newly augmented by a four-woman string ensemble and a four-man horn section. Their contributions to songs like "Solitary Man" and the new "You Are the Best Part of Me" were subtle accents, not tacked-on distractions.

The recent events of Neil Diamond's life, and ours, have lit some kind of fire in his soul. It's nice to see an artist at this stage of his career so passionate, instead of complacent, about what he's doing.

 

 


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