Diamond is forever to 17,000

The Toronto Star

by Betsy Powell

Throughout his 30-year career, Neil Diamond has never made any pretense of being hip and he's not about to start at 57.

He shows up for work in a sparkly red shirt and black trousers, blows air kisses Vegas-style and belts ``America'' while Canadian and American flags unfurl from the ceiling.

Hammy? Sure. But the capacity crowd of 17,000 at Maple Leaf Gardens last night didn't come to see the latest cool icon or sample any wildly new exciting musical styles or ideas. They got what they wanted: familiar hits from a hard-working showman delivered with gusto and enthusiasm.

The Brooklyn-born singer bounded into the spotlight and climbed up on to a revolving stage where the nine members of his band had already settled in. Grabbing the microphone at the stage's stationary centre, he launched into ``Beautiful Noise,'' the first of a string of hits rendered without twists or any significant variations from the originals.

There was no need for giant videoscreens. From the red seats you could see the sweat pouring off his brow and neck muscles that bulged while he sang. Toronto audiences would be better served if every entertainer brought along a revolving stage and Diamond used his to maximum effect, strutting its perimeter in order to connect with his worshippers, whose cheers proved his efforts were appreciated.

As he ran through his substantial repertoire of hits - his deep, smoky voice retains all of its power - the mood grew nostalgic, though there were many young faces in the crowd. While other middle-aged performers are unable to sustain a modern audience, Diamond has, despite his absence from the charts over the past decade. Indeed, last night's tunes were largely hits from the '60s and '70s: ``Song Sung Blue,'' ``Cracklin' Rose,'' ``Sweet Caroline,'' ``I Am, I Said,'' and ``Cherry Cherry.''

And while Diamond came to town with a new disc, The Movie Album, to plug, he limited the selection to just four, including a remake of Frank Sinatra's ``I've Got You Under My Skin,'' and ``Can't Help Falling In Love,'' a tune made famous by Elvis Presley. (Even his new songs are oldies.)

Then it was back to the Diamond collection, including a duet with backup vocalist Linda Press on an over-the-top version of ``You Don't Bring Me Flowers.'' The pair completed the song with an embrace and kiss, one of those moments with the potential to make your skin crawl. Diamond's sincerity kept it from being so.

Contents copyright 1996-1998, The Toronto Star.


Shining Diamond at the Gardens

The Toronto Sun

By JANE STEVENSON It has been five long years since Toronto has seen fervent pop singer Neil Diamond -- who falls somewhere on the schmaltz-o-meter between Barry Manilow and Elton John -- in all his glorious showmanship.

And so last night's diverse crowd at Diamond's sold-out show at Maple Leaf Gardens -- ranging from rowdy frat boys to older couples -- didn't waste any time in letting the 57-year-old artist know he had been missed.

As the lights dimmed and an overture of Diamond hits played, the crowd jumped to their feet and roared as the singer took to his impressive stage -- a rotating theatre-in-the-round which supported his veteran nine-piece band beneath him.

Talk about basking in the glow.

Unfortunately, that level of excitement couldn't be maintained over the next two hours.

The arm-sweeping and finger-pointing Diamond -- think of him as the Charlton Heston of pop music -- had the audience right in the palm of his hand for most of his staggering 32-song set.

However, some of Diamond's show got dragged down by slow-moving sections that would have been better left out, including a four-song set from his soundtrack for the 1973 film Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the song Sabre Dance, which was just performed by his band, and another four tracks from his most recent release, The Movie Album -- As Time Goes By.

When the singer announced: "I think we're going to try some Neil Diamond songs!" following his own emotional outpouring into new/old material like Unchained Melody and Can't Help Falling In Love, you could hear and feel the restless crowd's energy level take a swing back up again.

Particularly since Diamond, prone to blowing kisses at the audience, then jumped into three of the biggest singalongs of the night, Song Sung Blue, Cracklin' Rosie and Sweet Caroline.

But let's not forget the other classics up to this point.

Most of the evening did consist of Diamond's legendary songbook from the '60s and '70s, although after opening with Beautiful Noise, he jumped ahead 20 years to Can Anybody Hear Me from his 1996 country-influenced album, Tennessee Moon.

However, he didn't stay in the '90s for long.

The first barn burner of the night was the oldie-but-goody Thank The Lord For The Night Time, which was followed by the delightful Cherry Cherry, a song that saw Diamond play the acoustic guitar, raising his cool quotient considerably.

Also good was Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon, although it was hard to completely wipe out the sound of Urge Overkill's more recent and excellent cover. The same went for Solitary Man, which Chris Isaak has sufficiently crooned.

It was only when it came time for Diamond to belt out Play Me, as in: "You are the sun, I am the moon, you are the words, I am the tune, play me," that his on-stage melodrama finally made complete and utter sense.

An even bigger fever pitch was reached on his foot-stomping, hand-clapping renditions of Forever In Blue Jeans and America, the latter song which featured the unfurling of several Canadian and U.S. flags.

There are several reasons that Diamond -- who plays a sold-out show at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton tonight -- has sold 110 million albums over his 30-year-career, and not being afraid to perform when the song calls for it is right up there.

Copyright 1998 The Toronto Sun

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Fan Reviews

by Paul Mclauglin

Neil Diamond has released his 44th album, As Time Goes By: The Movie Album, and we attend our sixth or seventh show. We saw him perform in support of Beautiful Noise, You Don't Bring Me Flowers, On The Way To The Sky, Headed For The Future and Up On The Roof. We may have seen an earlier show, but we couldn't agree on when it might have been. Somewhere between Moods and Serenade. Every time at the Maple Leaf Gardens hockey arena.

The Gardens is a grand old building, built during the depression, with seats coloured gold, red, green and grey rising from ice level. All our previous shows, save the Up On The Roof concert, were viewed from high greens or greys. In spite of lining up at ticket agencies and dialing until our fingers were numb.

The last show we got shut out! I got tickets a couple of weeks after the on sale date only because they were returned by a bulk purchaser... and they were reds, the best we'd ever had.

This time, tickets were available from Ticketmaster's web site. I dialed the phone with one hand and tried getting online with the other. I get in a few minutes after the sale starts... the computer selects row B on the floor! But after waiting tem minutes for the system to confirm my credit card, I'm told I took too long and the tickets were released back to the pool.

ARGH!

I try again, it takes thirty minutes (the phone is still ringing busy) and I get greens. Not bad, in the arena, but not row B. I enter my info and secure the seats. I go to lunch.

Back from lunch, I have a message "Call XX at Ticketmaster". I call, the nice lady tells me there was a problem with the computer. "Oh no," I think, "I have NO tickets!" She continues, "Did you try to buy a pair of floor seats earlier this morning?" "Yes." "The computer didn't get all your information, BUT THE TICKETS ARE STILL RESERVED FOR YOU." I can hardly believe my ears! "Would you still like the tickets?"

We have a laugh over that question and she cancels my green seats in favour of the floors. ROW B! I never would have believed it. The show is a week before my wife's birthday... what a present!

And now, the night is here.

One $15 program, a pass on the $30, $35 and $40 t-shirts(!), and into the arena down a corridor we've rarely had the pleasure of walking. We hand our stub to the usherette and she leads us towards the stage... to row B.

Now, to tell you the truth, we weren't just about next to the stage. Because the arena is a rectangle and the stage is round, they've put a little triangle or two rows between row A and the stage itself. That put us about 20 feet from the edge of the stage. No complaints here.

The seats were just folding chairs... very uncomfortable, and jammed right next to each other. Luckily, I convinced the folks to my right to all wiggle their seats a bit towards the aisle and we all had some more room. It was a good thing we stand a lot at Diamond concerts, it meant we didn't have to sit in the chairs as much!

I left to do some exploring. Heavy security around the dressing room area. Lots of cases for equipment stacked up in the halls outside the arena proper. Bought some fresh popcorn. When I got back to my seat, the chair slid when I sat down, and I lost about a third of the popcorn bag all over. Not many seats were taken around us, but I found a kernel in my coat pocket yesterday.

At about eight, they announced that the lights would "dim suddenly and unexpectedly" and that people should take their seats since no one would be seated during the opening numbers. They made the same announcement at eight ten :-) Between those times, a gentleman came over to our section and told us how much Neil and the band enjoy an enthusiastic response from fans down front. He encouraged us to stand during the fast songs, but to sit during the slow ones to give the folks behind us a chance to see. What a great idea! Wait, what do mean "Play Me" is a slow song?

He also told us the band could see us during the show, and this proved true because there was a lot of eye-contact made throughout.

About twenty after eight, the lights really did dim suddenly! A prologue started over the sound system, a sonic suite of Diamond song snippets and orchestral sounds. The band enters and takes their places. In a short time the band replaces the taped introduction, and then... NEIL!

Red sequin shirt and black slacks. Right there. In person... soaking up the adulation from the sell out crowd of 17,000. Beautiful Noise, Can Anybody Hear Me. Great openers, but not exactly his best known songs. This shows Diamond's confidence in his material. Most acts open with a big hit to get the audience involved.

Neil works the in-the-round stage perfectly. He never pauses too long in any one spot, he waves and points to signs and enthusiastic fans. Wireless microphones and revolving stages were meant for each other.

Another first impression: is this the same guy who practically croaked his way through the first few songs in 1993? I had thought, before tonight, that we would never have the pleasure of hearing Neil Diamond sing live without cracking and growling. What has he done? I'm sure the layoff he has had since his last tour has helped a lot. But, I wouldn't be surprised if he is taking better care of his voice these days. Maybe he has even had some lessons to reduce the strain during a performance. Whatever it is, I like it!

Hello Again. We sit. Perfect lyrics for a live performance, and Neil and his fans play their parts perfectly. There is no better example of Diamond's showmanship than when he sings this song and pauses for the expected (and given) feedback in all the right places.

"I think about you every night" (roar)

"We've been through it all, and you loved me just the same" (bigger roar)

The performer and audience MAKE the song come alive.

If You Know What I Mean. "Can you feel it babe?" This might be my favourite number. After the song I tell my wife, "OK, I can go home now."

Neil finishes and moves to the center of the stage. This part is on a slight riser which puts him about 10 feet above the floor. The outer stage is probably six feet high. The band sits between the riser and outer ring. When Neil is on the far side of the stage, we can see just his head. Everywhere else, we can see most of him. This gives the impression that he is never too far away. He also travels A LOT around the perimeter, so every seat gets a good look. Most of the women in the audience don't seem to mind so much when he completely turns his back on them...

Neil picks up his black acoustic guitar and launches into a rousing Thank The Lord For The Night Time ("and thank god for YOU!") straight into Cherry Cherry. Then he introduces I Got The Feeling (Oh No No)! I can't believe it... he's done seven songs so far, and TWO are from the first side of his FIRST ALBUM! Does this make "The Feel Of Neil Diamond" his most under-rated record release? I'm starting to think so.

Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon follows, then Solitary Man (that's now the first THREE songs from that album...). Shilo wraps up the Bang Records portion of the show, and Neil has presented a pretty good case for being a candidate for the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame. A master of the three-chord pop song.

More audience teasing with Play Me (did I really hear swoons?) and a great pumping version of Forever In Blue Jeans, with the crowd shouting the title line.

Sit down... Neil does a suite of songs from Jonathan Livingston Seagull and intersperses some spoken word narration. He sings portions of Be, Lonely Looking Sky, Anthem and Skybird. Very nice, and not too long. The band nicely transitions from the bouncy Blue Jeans to the more Orchestral Jonathan. Truly "professional" musicians, Neil must make their lives very easy to keep them together for such a long time.

Since this tour is to support The Movie Album, Neil must have wanted to get his "own" movie songs into the mix. We have already had Hello Again from The Jazz Singer, and now we get America, Amazed And Confused(!) and Love On The Rocks. For a project that he doesn't describe in the best of terms, he sure seems to enjoy the music.

Lament in d Minor / Dance Of The Sabres gives our hero a chance to relax while the band cooks. Why didn't he introduce the band? I found that VERY strange... even if he forgot, surely someone would have reminded him.

Neil took a seat on a little stool thingie on the outer ring of the stage, and he sang the first song from the new album from that spot.

After a short introduction telling some of the story behind making the new album, Neil sang As Time Goes By, Unchained Melody, the I've Got You Under My Skin/One For My Baby Medley and Can't Help Falling In Love ("I HAD to include an Elvis movie song"). I was sure I heard a few bars of Can You Feel The Love Tonight before the first or second number, but it resolved into the other song.

"Now it's time for some Neil Diamond songs!"

And no one disagreed :-)

Forgive me for a slight diversion from the concert description... I find the new album quite dreary. The performances are top notch, the orchestration and arrangements are superb, Neil's singing and interpretation are great, the song selection is strong... but, but, but... the whole thing seems to take place in slow motion, nothing upbeat, too much of an easy pace to the whole project.

When Diamond performed the songs on stage, I expected a snooze-fest. Instead, there was life! The band incorporated the arrangements, but added some pizazz. I'm not familiar enough with the album to know if the tempos were any faster... but they *seemed* faster.

I tip my hat to Neil, he could have used his band and singers to mask and support his voice in the concert performances of these songs... but he didn't. He sung them straight and solo. The urge to add vocal support must be overwhelming, but he avoided the easy way and challenged himself musically. Bravo!

Back to the show...

This is the home stretch. In my mind the most perfect live segue in any Diamond set list is the one from Song Sung Blue straight into Cracklin' Rosie. And we get it!

During Rosie, we get a full-on, close presentation during the chorus, twice! The first time I'm convinced the "We got all night" point is straight at my wife. The second one goes right over our heads to the folks behind and above us. Cool!

Sweet Caroline follows... and the crowd is putty in his hands.

You Don't Bring Me Flowers, beautifully sung. I think he's changed some of the duet lyrics... it just seems to flow better as a story. Maybe I was just mesmerized. The arrangement has some new bits, too. I especially enjoyed the "...think I could learn how to tell you goodbye" part.

I Am I Said. Lovely. Controlled performance by the whole musical unit. Some passion that seemed missing from other recent concerts we saw. Followed by the fabulous band outro vamp while Neil circles for lots of bows, points and kiss throwing. He pauses at the top of the stairs... and goes right back to the band. No run off... no clothes change... just a whisper to drummer Ron Tutt ("3 more songs")... and we're into a majestic Holly Holy.

Speaking of Ron... how can he play with such feel, accuracy and intensity while he looks like he's relaxing in front of the TV? Is this guy the Perry Como of drummers?

The familiar intro to Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show plays. Neil no longer sings this in a total rasp... another indication of the improved health of his voice. Good gospel feel from the band and, of course, a completely over-the-top southern preacher interlude.

The concert finishes with an exquisite performance of I've Been This Way Before. Is there a better lyric to close a concert? "...and I'm sure to be this way again, one more time again, just one more time"

Missed opportunity! During Brother Love, some people managed to move up from the back into the aisles near the front. Security had stopped them there, but let them stay. That was fine for the "everyone standing" Salvation Show, but they were a bit stuck for the finale. Their solution? They slow danced for the last song... Neil came around to our side just at the first "Some people got to sing, some people got to sigh" section... it would have been perfect for a little "some people got to dance" impromptu lyric change. There is even a little pause in the lyric to fit it in...

The song fades, more "I Am I Said" outro music and then he's gone. But not before one last "Number One" finger salute from the doorway to the arena. The band goes. And the lights come up. It's over. 2 hours to the minute after he started. The applause dies quickly and roadies are almost immediately taking down the stage.

Lots of *very happy* people leaving the Gardens on Sunday night. A good atmosphere all around. Diamond fans (did that t-shirt *really* say "diamondhead"? yuck.) got what they came for.

Highlights: being so close(!), Neil's voice, the band, the set list, Tom Hensley bouncing at the keys during Cracklin' Rosie, King & Vince mugging to the audience, Alan Lindgren with a different instrument every time you look at him (I spotted keyboards, violin and cello).

Lowlights: spilling popcorn, price of T-shirts. None between the house lights dimming and coming up two hours later.

What Neil shouldn't change: performing "in-the-round"! This is an excellent idea. It gets more people closer to the performer and more involved in the show. No one is 100 rows back on the floor.

Surprise: the sound wasn't overpowering. Looking at the banks of speakers before the show it looked like we might get deafened, but the levels were very reasonable. Thanks to the sound crew!

Big question: can we ever go back to the greys?

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