Neil Diamond 2001-2002 Concert Reviews

Philadelphia, PA October 17-18, 2001

Neil Diamond: Schmaltz and melancholy
From the Philadelphia Inquirer - Please visit their website!

By A.D. Amorosi

There's a fine line between tribute and parody, and Neil Diamond has seen both. To Saturday Night Live's Will Ferrell - who sings "Forever in Blue Jeans" in Gap commercials with frightening accuracy where Neil's hammy, gruff voice and shellacked comb-over are concerned - he's a caricature.

But the more than 17,000 fans at Diamond's sold-out First Union Center show Wednesday night know different.

Subtlety isn't Diamond's bag, not that a soul expects it from him. He's the anti-Leonard Cohen, a master of boldfaced - not bleak or wry - emotion. At the First Union, the sentimental poetry, energetic earnestness, grandiose string-laden arrangements, and kitsch theatricality of his mournful gospel "Holly Holy," ebullient "Sweet Caroline," and startlingly Yma Sumac-ian "Soolaimon" put Phil Spector's Wall of Sound to shame.

Like Spector, Diamond made his bones at pop's Brill Building, where Broadway schmaltz met rock-and-roll bluntness. It's that street-opera romanticism he brought to his softest songs (ominous Latino shuffles "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" and "Shilo"); overblown anthems ("America," whose tis-of-thee lyrics opened the show); hits "Solitary Man," with its chiming guitars and AM-radio brass blasts, and "Cherry Cherry," with its classic "Cool Jerk" piano fill; and the new, churchy "A Mission of Love" and Disneyesque "I Believe in Happy Endings."

Yet for all the schmaltz (the duet "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," which was too lurid for its own good, and an absurd "Blue Jeans"), there emerged a ragged melancholy that, come to think of it, did put Diamond in league with the aforementioned Cohen.

When performing one of his new songs, a reflection on romance gone awry, he addressed his audience with a weary sadness ("Baby, you're the reason I haven't played this song in years"), his deep-voiced pain every bit a match for Cohen's death-rattle ardor. With that one line done that one way, Diamond revealed an elegant, delicate decadence his bigger songs merely hinted at.

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