Saturday, November 21, 1998
by Matt Radz
At least 14,000 of his closest friends greeted Neil Diamond with a restrained road when the singer mounted the revolving stage at the Molson Centre last night.
Diamond threw his book of hits at them and the fans loved it. They came to adore him and they did throughout a show that started with Beautiful Noise and ended more than two hours later .... The fans got the hits they came for, plus a bonus of equally familiar movie themes.
Looking trim in black slacks and a red shirt that sparkled and shimmered in the spotlight, Diamond, 57, was his usual relaxed self. He showed surprisingly little wear, considering that Montreal was the 14th stop on a tour that began in Texas less than a month ago.
Last night's love-in started with the first number. The audience clapped along cheering and hooting, discreetly, of course, as befit their advancing age. Diamond threw kisses and clawed at his heart in working his way through the catalogue of familiar chart toppers.
Hello Again, the third number, ignited the Bics and when Diamond strapped on his acoustic guitar to kick off an uptempo segment with Cherry, Cherry, he drew the first of several standing ovations.
And so it went with few surprises. Diamond wrenching every bit of emotion out of Solitary Man, his first hit back in 1966, Shilo and Play Me. He drew more flickering lights with Forever in Blue Jeans, before catching a breather with the declamatory movie-theme Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
As America reached its bombastic crescendo, four flags, two U.S., two sort of Canadian, fluttered out of the overhead lighting rig that, with the circle of blue spots resembled the mother ship from the movie Close Encounters. The nine band member were below in a pit on a stage that looked like a sunken living room. This left the star free to waltz around on the top level.
Diamond stuck to his own hits, except for a four-song sample from his new CD, The Movie Album; As Time Goes By, that included the title tune and Can't Help Falling In Love, the Elvis hit from Blue Hawaii.
Sinatra's I Got You Under My Skin turned out to be a bit of a struggle. It was a low point in a show of highlights and it only underlined the individuality and distinctiveness of Diamond's unique pop style. Sinatra's, too.
Diamond was tying with his audience up to that point. He then put it away with You Don't Bring Me Flowers, which came after the one-two punch of Cracklin' Rosie and Sweet Caroline.
He mopped up with Holly Holy and Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show ....
Quite a show and longtime devotees agreed. As it happened Ted Tevan who opens his weeknight radio show on CIQC with Hello Again, was seated nearby. The radio host was catching Diamond for the seventh time and suggested that the singer was "probably better last night than he was eight to 10 years ago. His voice has more soul now and more resonance," Tevan said. "The voice is very strong."
Diamond's North American tour continues, culminating with a New Year's Eve show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. But Diamond won't stop there. He's going to Europe in the spring and then on to Australia and New Zealand.
Living in the sticks (Northern Vermont), I was so excited to see that Neil was playing in Montreal! Usually I have to travel to Massachusetts or New York to catch his concerts, but here he was, just 1-1/2 hours away. The last time he was in Montreal, we were so fortunate to meet his son, Jesse who played with the band that night. We met Jesse once before in Providence, RI, back in the early 80's when he was a little boy. He was on stage most of that night, just kind-of hanging around with the band and playing around in the background. It was pretty strange to see this young man again. Really made me feel my age!
I've been to countless Neil concerts since around 1970. He's certainly changed through the years. When we first saw him in Boston, he was young, slim, and SO intense. He opened his show with Soolaimon and closed with Brother Love. I've been madly in love ever since!
Through the seventies and eighties he was totally deep, intense, and wonderful. Now, in the 90's we find him to be older, wiser, and friendlier. He seems to interact more with his audience and comes across as an old friend, instead of an unapproachable icon. In a room filled with 18-19 thousand people, you feel an instant, intimate connection with him.
Last night's concert was wonderful! Nothing gives me goosebumps like those I get when Neil Diamond breaks into his "Beautiful Noise" and "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" vaults. Although I enjoyed the whole concert, I particularly enjoyed this "old stuff." The movie album is excellent, but like most die-hard Diamond fans, I prefer hearing him sing his own songs. Nobody can write a song that touches the heart like Neil Diamond and nobody can belt out those lyrics like the guy who wrote them!
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