Jazz Singer Offers a Solid Traveling Show

The Grand Rapids Press

by John Sinkevics

Just before Neil Diamond took the stage Thursday night, a show attendant informed those in the front rows that it was OK to get up and dance during uptempo numbers but they should remain seated for slow ballads.

And under no circumstances, he cautioned, were they to rush or approach the revolving stage.

Uh, excuse me?

Those bizarre instructions on proper audience etiquette aside, there was little danger of a mosh pit forming amount the 12,000 or so baby boomers-plus who packed the Van Andel Arena for the first of Diamond's two Grand Rapids shows.

Yes, they got up and danced and clapped when so instructed, but these polite Diamond fans didn't come to body surf, or to flail out of control or to see a laser light show.

They came to hear a 57-year -old pop icon who's sold more than 110 million records.

And for nearly two hours and through more than two dozen songs, that's just what Diamond did - in occasionally glitzy fashion, in occasionally droll fashion - from the middle of a flying saucer like, revolving stage.

Concert-goers streaming to tonight's second show at Van Andel Arena at 8 p.m. can expect to see the same type of Diamond sparkle, even if it sometimes seems more like the glitter of a cubit zirconia.

Diamond certainly has made the complete metamorphosis - from the singer- songwriter troubadour who impressed other musicians enough to have them cover catchy tunes such as "Kentucky Woman" and Solitary Man" to the Las Vegas showman who now covers other people's tunes and plays his guitar more for show than substance.

That his scratch voice seemed strained at times on newer material mattered little to the attending sellout crowd, though they clearly relished Diamond's oldest singles the most. Stuff like "Cherry, Cherry" and "Shilo."

He packaged a string of these hits together early in the show, even strapping on a guitar for a while (though it didn't seem to be plugged into anything on stage).

"I love the man," gushed 52-year-old Karen Gaitan of Holland, who came to the concert with her daughter, Kendra Overway, "It was the best concert I've seen since Tony Bennett."

Although Diamond - the first performer to play two straight nights at Van Andel Arena - earned a huge ovation for "Forever in Blue Jeans," he himself stayed away from denim. Clad in black slacks and a puffy-sleeved, glittery brown shirt, Diamond not so much walked but stalked the stage, pointing to the sky and audience in a familiar Diamond pose.

Before crooning "Song, Sung, Blue," his No. 1 hit from 1972, Diamond even implored members of the reserved crowd to move to the music, "C'mon, get up you old fart," he joked.

The singer's nine-piece band, meanwhile, made the perfect sidekick: tight, polished and just animated enough to spur on the fans without distracting them from Diamond. Unfortunately, he could have used a distraction during his no- so-effective stab at singing movie tunes - a way to pump his recently released double-CD, "The Movie Album: As Time Goes By."

Still, by the end of the night, in the midst of perhaps Diamond's strongest songs, "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" and Holly Holy," the adoring crowd, his adoring crowd, was clapping and swaying and shimmying - at a safe distance from the stage, of course - and loving it.

Copyright 1998 The Grand Rapids Press

Fan Reviews

Shows in G.R. Were Neilistic!!!

By Michael Furbush (The 19-year-old superfan) Van Andel Arena was the place to be last Thursday and Friday night. Both of Neil Diamond's spectacular shows in the Grand Rapids arena were sell-outs, as was his excellent show in 1996 that opened the facility. This time around, Neil outdid himself. He still had that incredible, almost hypnotic stage presence that can be felt by every audience member, all the way to the nosebleed seats. His voice was warm and polished. His energy was enough to put many young rock'n'rollers to shame. His band was full and rich. The light show was impressive. And the audience loved it...both nights.

Yes, I'm only nineteen. I was raised on N.D. and saw his 1996 show in Grand Rapids when he opened Van Andel. My friends and I were awestruck by Neil's proffesionalism. Now, two years later, it was time to experience the magic again.

I attended both of his G.R. shows this year and both were excellent. The audience seemed much more excited than they had two years ago. I could tell from the opening number, Beatiful Noise, that this crowd was into it. The audience cheered and clapped and sang along and had a blast. I have seen a lot of great shows, but never with an audience that adored the performer as much as Neil's crowd. The magic, the intimacy that happens between Neil Diamond and his fans is unequalled. It was the outstanding concert experience of my life to join 13,000-plus fans for two nights in a row to see one of the greatest showmen to ever live.

I could write a long letter of my adoration for Neil, but I think that it is obvious. Neil is a polished Diamond that, like a bottle of Red, Red Wine, improves with age. He can visit Grand Rapids again anytime!

by Ellen Janes
I don't know if this reporter (from the Grand Rapids Press) was in the same building as I was. My impression of the crowd response from Neil's entrance to the walk-off is quite different. They surged to their feet, roared a welcome, then clapped, danced, hooted and whistled their hearts out throughout the whole concert, including "The Movie Album" and "JLS" bits. They did the same for the band. Neil himself responded with a knock-out concert. He put all he had into every song. I had about 14 friends go, for 3 of them it was their first concert ever...they loved every minute of it and are now Diamondheads like me.

One of them was going to stop at one of the local superstores and buy the album on her way home. She had been so excited about the concert she forgot to stop and get it at the concession stands. Personally I don't see how he does it, but sure do appreciate what he does. He is a Performer par excellance.

I also attended the Friday night concert, by the way another sellout, and could give the same review. The crowd response to Neil and band was just as powerful if not more so than Thursday night. And again we got 2 full hours of great music. What more could you ask?

Also, the audience was not all baby-boomers, there were an awful lot of young faces & bodies singing & swaying right along with us both nights. I think thats one of the things that impressed me the most. The next generation has got some "music smarts" after all!

I attended the concert on 11/5/98, it was Awesome. I have never been to a Neil Diamond concert and I would go again in a second. If I could have gone the next night, I would have. I never get tired of his voice. He is "the Man" and I do not care what the critic in the above review said, Neil Diamond was "Totally On" and if he had been watching the crowd, they were mesmerized by his voice and performance. It was definitely a night I will remember.

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