Neil Diamond 2001-2002 Concert Reviews / Photos

Las Vegas, NV  December 30-31, 2001
Photos by Jim Pietryga


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Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

Diamond draws huge crowds to predictable show


123101-8.jpg (13951 bytes)Hey, guess what. Neil Diamond filled about 22,000 seats at the MGM Grand Garden arena on Sunday and Monday. That's more people than the combined sum of fans who saw Britney Spears, Jane's Addiction, Erykah Badu and Sum 41 this year in Las Vegas.

And Diamond's ticket prices were the highest of that bunch, at $50-$150 a cushion. For that price, he spent two hours and 10 minutes going over familiar tunes. Among them: "Red, Red Wine" (which was covered into a No. 1 hit by UB40), "I'm a Believer" (the hit he wrote for the Monkees), "Forever in Blue Jeans" (which was used in a Gap ad not too long ago), "Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon" (which was covered by Urge Overkill and used in the film "Pulp Fiction"), and his signature hit "Sweet Caroline."

Diamond's dressed-up fans were mostly older. Presumably, they miss the days when soft-pop singers Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow topped the very same pop charts that the hard-rock band Nickelback owns this week. These fans danced and sang along with high revelry. They weren't real old, but at times, it looked like the movie "Cocoon," where "mature" people became young again for a night, even if they were antsy.

"Why hasn't it started? It's a half-hour late," a woman said behind me.

"It's called Jewish standard time," her husband joked. Diamond is Jewish.

A huge American flag curtained the stage. Once it was raised, Diamond appeared front and center in a bright haze of spotlights. He stood in a white sparkley shirt and black pants. And on a war-torn night, Diamond opened and closed with his immigrant-embracing "America." At the song's conclusion, he pointed at the ceiling. Wild applause ensued.

Diamond was more than kitschy. He was schmaltzy and cliché, but professional and commanding. He was predictable, yet dynamic.

My high school orchestra conductor claimed Diamond was the greatest living composer in 1984. I disagree, but Diamond at his peak was a very skilled composer and arranger. That was most apparent Sunday when he played with the nice octave jumps of "I Am ... I Said." And when his two female backup singers added the "do-do-do" counter vocals to "Cherry Cherry." And when his 15-piece band -- including a four-piece horn section and an all-woman string quartet -- cemented a wall of sound on "I'm a Believer." And when Diamond sang the classic uptick, half-steps of the slow-waltz chorus, "Play Me."

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Diamond's bassy, cigarettes-and-coffee-in-the-morning rasp was as subjectively passable as usual, in the way he warbled his vibrato while talk-singing deeply to love songs. You either love that voice or you don't.

And he was personable, joking with the crowd and apparently making out with A) a married woman in the front row, B) a married backup singer and C) a bald man's head.

"It's so soft. It's so smooth," he said seductively after kissing an usher's noggin. "We'll meet later for a drink."

It was all better than I expected, but not great. Diamond fans who plan to complain about my muted glee can line up behind my funny girlfriend, who thought it was the best show of the last few years. But then, her picture showed up in the Indianapolis Star when she was 5, after she performed in a talent show as "Diamond's Little Darling." She's from Indiana, both geographically and spiritually. She calls Diamond her "Jewish Elvis." Yes, she does.

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