Diamond half charmer, half cheese ball

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Hits such as 'Cherry, Cherry' were treats; drama-laden others left bad aftertaste
By Dave Tianen
Journal Sentinel pop music critic
November 01, 1998
It was Halloween night, so perhaps it was only appropriate that Neil Diamond should come to the Milwaukee Arena as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," of course, is Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of the duality of man's nature, his capacity for the sublime and the truly wretched. Almost makes you wonder whether Stevenson ever heard both "Cherry, Cherry" and "Forever in Blue Jeans."

Few contemporary musicians have demonstrated such a consistent capacity for serving filet mignon with cheese balls as Neil Diamond. In his Dr. Jekyll mode Saturday, Diamond dispensed such treats as the secular gospel of "I Thank the Lord for the Night Time," the La Bamba rewrite of "Cherry, Cherry" and the boozy good times of "Cracklin' Rosie."

Diamond provided a generous sampling of his new album of great movie themes Saturday night, and they actually worked better in concert than on the album. On the album, they're swamped in a thick ooze of strings. Perhaps it was a matter of being in his own element as a singer, but Diamond also seemed more at ease with the material.

As rendered by Diamond's much smaller band, the qualities that have made "Unchained Melody" and "Can't Help Falling In Love" hits repeatedly in the rock era came forth much more readily. The more modest charts also did much to restore the well-tested charms of "As Time Goes By."

But then there was that other Neil Diamond. The Great Cheese ball. That Neil Diamond serves cheese in more flavors than the folks at Kraft:

There's Cheese on the Wing, as in his overblown and pretentious Jonathan Livingston Seagull medley. Waterfowl theology stuffed with musical mozzarella.

There's Cheese on the Rack, as in Neil's blinding shirt of many sequins. Serious performers do not usually come dressed as the Las Vegas strip.

There's Rally Around the Cheese, as in the big finale to "America," when four giant American flags were unfurled. True patriotism shouldn't evoke thoughts of Wayne Newton.

There's Botanical Cheese, as in "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." That particular lump of cheddar is notorious for causing gastric discomfort.

Finally, there's Upholstered Cheese as in "I Am . . . I Said." No artist with a properly functioning cheese detector would write a line like: "I am I said; To no one there; And no one heard at all; Not even the chair." Not even the most angst-ridden soul expects the furniture to listen to his woes.

In fairness, it should be noted that the crowd absolutely adored Diamond. Most performers have fans. Diamond has something close to disciples. There were multiple standing ovations, sing-alongs, sway-alongs and clap-alongs. Middle-aged women were shouting out spontaneous expressions of sexual delirium. Sinatra would have been envious.

As an aside, this was also the debut of the remodeled Milwaukee Arena. The fresh paint has certainly helped, but customers, I think, will most appreciate the newly upholstered chairs. I've never been a huge fan of the Arena as a concert venue, but this is actually a pleasant setting.

Neil Diamond also performs at 8 tonight at the Milwaukee Arena.

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