WINSTON-SALEM -- Neil Diamond inspires undying loyalty among his large, faithful following. While popular-music fads come and go, Diamond staunchly holds his own as an entertainer capable of filling an arena, as he did at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Friday night.
Think about it: Diamond nearly sold out LJVM, and he did so without the padding of an opening act. How many rockers or rappers can make a similar claim these days?
Having entered the autumn of his years, Diamond -- who's barely a month shy of his 58th birthday -- plays on that reality to touch the sensibilities of his audience, many of whom are of similar vintage. Older than Elvis Presley and younger than Frank Sinatra, Diamond fits neatly in between them as an entertainer with a legitimate grounding in rock and roll and adult pop.
His ongoing appeal stems from his ability to bridge both genres, and indeed his concert seesawed back and forth between them. Over the course of two-plus hours, Diamond delved deeply into his treasure chest of hits from an impressive 20-year run that began in 1966 with "Solitary Man" and ended with his last appearance on the singles charts in 1986.
Diamond and band performed in the round on a rotating stage, the center of which was raised like a 45 rpm spindle sitting on a turntable. It was from this apex that Diamond held court for most of the night. Attired in a dark blue button-down shirt streaked with glitter, bathed in a white spotlight, he'd unleash his dramatic, rumbling vibrato and then finish a song with a stagy sweep of his outstretched hand as the band hit a final climactic chord. His large musical ensemble adroitly handled arrangements that ranged from Tin Pan Alley rock to grandiose orchestrations.
The heavily female, forty-something (or more) crowd held back nothing in the way of adoration, screaming "We love you Neil!" and stomping and clapping along to the raucous faux gospel of "Thank the Lord for the Nighttime" and "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show."
When Diamond reprised "Sweet Caroline" by teaching the audience some backup vocal parts, they obliged by shouting their lungs out. The pandemonium reached its crescendo with "America," a histrionic tribute to the red, white and blue during which four flags unfurled.
More satisfying were Diamond's deliberate, understated readings of such worthy early songs as "Kentucky Woman," "I Am...I Said" and "Shiloh."
Diamond ripped through a spirited "Cherry Cherry," striking poses with his acoustic guitar reminiscent of Elvis in his Sun Records days. A generous entertainer who fed off the crowd's swooning adulation, Diamond actually was in better voice and form than when he last played here nearly six years ago. Sure, there was a ragged edge here and there, but they were few and far between and he could still hit the high notes full on when he needed to.
Diamond touched on his latest CD, the just-released "Movie Album," in a four-song mini-set that proved to be one of the show's low points, drawing him away from his pop roots into territory more fitting for a Las Vegas-bred cabaret singer. Then, too, I must confess to having no particular affection for the saccharin-drenched balladry of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and "Love On the Rocks," which mines the romantic travails of middle age with more pathos than I can stomach.
To be fair, the crowd loved every syllable that issued from Diamond's lips, and they knew where he was coming from when he'd express such autumnal sentiments as, "Here's to the songs we used to sing/And here's to the good times we used to know" (from "If You Know What I Mean"). At moments like those, Neil Diamond hit the audience exactly where they live. That's why nearly 14,000 paying customers showed up to commune with him on Friday night.
Hi Joe, here's the song list from the Winston-Salem concert:
Beautiful Noise Can Anybody Hear Me Hello Again If You Know What I Mean Thank the Lord for the Nighttime Cherry, Cherry Kentucky Woman I Got the Feeling Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon Solitary Man Shilo Play Me Morningside Forever in Blue Jeans Be Lonely Looking Sky Sanctus Skybird America Amazed and Confused Love on the Rocks Sabre Dance (band) As Time Goes By Unchained Melody I've Got You Under My Skin Can't Help Falling in Love Song Sung Blue Cracklin' Rosie Sweet Caroline (two times) You Don't Bring Me Flowers I Am I Said Holly Holy Brother Love I've Been This Way Before
As usual, the show was awesome. After doing Sweet Caroline, Neil had some instructions for us to sing it the second time around. He said he would sing "Sweet Caroline" and we were instructed to sing "wo wo wo", then he would sing "good times never seemed so good", and then we were to sing "so good, so good, so good." He had the place rocking on that one!
About 20 internet Neil fans met at a restaurant for dinner before the show; it was so great to put faces with names and really "talk" with long-time friends who had never before met.
Vince told us after the show that his Caribbean Christmas album was supposed to be available for sale at the Winston show, but didn't make it, but that it would be available for the Greenville, SC show on Sunday.
Hi Joe and Neil Fans,
December 11, 1998, finally arrived and I traveled from the Richmond, VA area to Winston-Salem, NC for one reason - to see NEIL DIAMOND in concert at the Joel Coliseum. And believe me, IT WAS WELL WORTH IT!!!
In a sold-out arena, Neil brought down the house! Adoring fans were singing, dancing, clapping hands, waving, swaving and just generally absorbing every ounce of him that they could - we loved every syllable that he uttered/sang.
To me, and I'm sure all his fans, Neil is the epitome of an ENTERTAINER! and did he ever prove AGAIN last Friday night how multitalented and sincere he his. His genuine love of music and what he does SHINES THROUGH when he is performing like nothing I have ever witnessed and it is pure, unadulterated pleasure to watch - it's almost spiritual. Frank and Elvis may have been great but they have nothing on this legend - Neil Diamond.
Dressed in a dark blue shirt streaked with glitter, black slacks and a new haircut that is so attractive that he looks 25 again, he caressed the audience (of all ages - elderly, middle-aged baby boomers and Gen-Xers) with that beautiful baritone voice of his which, reaching some of the highest notes I have ever heard him sing, and which, by the way, only gets better with time, and totally mesmerized everyone.
I loved the entire performance, espcially hearing "I've Got the Feeling," "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," and "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," although I did miss the laser light seagull display he has had at past concerts.
And I can't let the opportunity go by without saying that Neil's band is absolutely the best!!! They are sooooo talented and exude a comraderie with Neil and the audience that is genuine.
My spirits were soaring when I left the Joel Colisem Friday night and I am still reeling from it and will be for months. Sadly, I won't see him again on tour this year but believe me, whenever he plans to tour again (I know this one's not over yet but hey....I can dream, can't I), I'll be there.
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