Neil Diamond 2001-2002 Concert Reviews

Los Angeles, CA  December 19, 21-22 2001


From the LOS ANGELES TIMES - Please visit thier website!

December 21, 2001

Neil Diamond Veers From Hokey to Heartfelt


It wasn't hard to guess which tune Neil Diamond would open with Wednesday at the Forum. The giant U.S. flag hanging in front of the stage practically guaranteed he'd start with "America," one of his three Top 10 hits from the 1980 movie "The Jazz Singer," in which he starred.

The song represents an era when the Brooklyn-born artist's chart popularity had never been higher. Diamond's genteel pop and persona--a blend of Elvis-style great entertainer and Dylan-style personal songwriter--made him America's top male vocalist from 1966 to 1986. On Wednesday, he offered hit upon hit that testified to his enduring appeal, as well as many selections from his current collection, "Three Chord Opera."

"America's" tale of hopeful immigrants arriving on American shores encapsulated themes of patriotism and optimism that resonated throughout the two-hour show, the first of a three-night engagement. The over-the-top presentation--complete with the unfurling of three more stars-and-stripes banners and Diamond's call to "stand up for America"--provided that element of self-seriousness bordering on camp that some (mostly younger) fans seemed to enjoy almost as much as his genuinely fine songwriting moments. Indeed, the performance was an uneven blend of touching-to-overwrought sentiment, wacky humor and hackneyed audience-participation segments that momentarily transformed the arena into a cruise-ship lounge. Wearing a sparkly shirt and dress slacks, Diamond, 60, played some acoustic guitar and a little piano, and often bantered with the crowd.

Although high-tech, the concert felt slightly old-fashioned, due in part to the lack of video screens and the presence of a string quartet instead of synthesized strings. The band also included brass, keyboards, guitar, drums, percussion and backing vocalists.

Simple emotions writ large were the order of the night, which often led to bombast, as in a melodramatic "Holly Holy" and the show's nadir, "At the Movies." The virgin-seduction number "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" felt a little creepy, but Diamond lightened it by engaging in romantic shenanigans with a young audience member.

But Diamond was also genuinely affecting with such numbers as a subdued "Solitary Man" and a rollicking "Cherry, Cherry." These moments underscored the real humanity behind even his more pretentious works. Indeed, by the time that big U.S. flag dropped back down after the encores, even nonbelievers left humming his tunes.



Friday, December 21, 2001

Review: Diamond's the real deal


Neil Diamond is proof that they just don't make them like they used to.

Sure, after dozens of top hits and 35 years in the music business you expect a guy to know a thing or two about putting on a show.

But at the Great Western Forum on Wednesday, Diamond did more than put on a show. He connected with his audience, sharing his love of music through three decades of songs that have become part of pop history.

At a time when pop singers are little more than hyper-produced sexpots, Diamond is the real deal — a singer-songwriter with enduring talent and style. He even kicked off Wednesday's concert with an orchestra-style overture, but it seemed an appropriate appetizer for the musical feast that followed.

A 17-piece band, including string and horn sections, provided a rich background for Diamond's unmistakable voice — that smooth croon seasoned with just enough rasp for a rock 'n' roll edge.

Clad in black slacks and his trademark sequined shirt, the 60-year-old performer emerged from behind a giant American flag to open with his 20-year-old hit “America.” And when he sang out, “Stand up for America,” the Forum crowd rose to its feet and American flags unfurled from the top of the stage.

“Our country is going through a terrible thing,” Diamond said. “They say music has the power to heal, and if that's true, let the healing begin.”

And it did, as Diamond took the crowd on a trip through his musical history, marked by bits of storytelling and an array of familiar hits.

The audience swayed to “Solitary Man” and “Play Me,” boogied to “I'm a Believer” and “Cherry, Cherry” — his first top-10 hit back in 1965 — and cried to a rendition of “You Don't Bring Me Flowers.”

Diamond refreshed his 1966 smash “Red, Red Wine” with a reggae arrangement popularized by UB40 in 1983, and proved his enduring charm with a serenade to a woman in the crowd during “Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon,” a 34-year-old song that enjoyed new life after appearing on the soundtrack of the 1994 film, “Pulp Fiction.”

Even songs from his new album, “Three Chord Opera,” had a familiar feel, thanks to Diamond's sincere songwriting and classic vocal style. But it was hits such as “Forever in Blue Jeans” and “Sweet Caroline” that got the mostly middle-age audience groovin'. Seasoned by decades of popularity and memories, the songs sounded even sweeter than they did when they were first released.

Diamond offered two special dedications during the two-hour show. He sang “Captain Sunshine” in memory of his longtime percussionist, and performed “He Ain't Heavy ... He's My Brother,” from 1970's “Tap Root Manuscripts,” in honor of American police, firefighters and military personnel.

He ended the show on an upbeat note, with an encore of “Cracklin' Rosie” and his classic concert closer, the gospel-flavored “Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show.”

Filing out of the Forum, it was difficult not to wish he would have played “Love on the Rocks” and “Song Sung Blue,” or that there was a new generation of touching songwriters to whom Diamond might pass his torch.

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