By Parry Gettelman
A lot of big acts tour with fancy props -- giant inflatable figures, exploding flash pots, video screens, platforms that zoom out over the audience, things that say look, we're stars.
Not Neil Diamond. His most impressive props at the Orlando Arena on Sunday were a pair of little, round, black tables, just big enough for a water glass, with a special bar attached to hold his black face towel. The discrete message conveyed by these highly specialized pieces of furniture: I'm an entertainer.
Diamond has been in the music business more than three decades and still belongs to the old school of performance. An entertainer is supposed to have enough charm and charisma -- and enough hits -- to hold an audience's attention without hauling around truckloads of special effects or swinging from the rafters.
Not that Diamond doesn't believe in spending money on a set. His lighting was very effective, and he played on a well-designed revolving stage in the center of the arena. Unlike some revolving stages, it allowed the whole audience to see not only Diamond, as he paced clockwise, but his longtime band as well. All eight musicians were not only exceptionally polished, but seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves and could often be seen singing along with the melody off-mike. Percussionists King Errisson and Vince Charles were particularly adept at getting the not-quite-capacity crowd involved.
Diamond knows what his audience wants: lots of the old hits. ``Hello Again,'' ``Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon'' and ``If You Know What I Mean'' cropped up early in the set Sunday. Diamond's beautifully tailored black trousers, black ankle boots and red, sequined dress shirt didn't quite meet the rock 'n' roll dress code, but he strapped on a guitar for some of his late '60s and early '70s hits: ``Cherry, Cherry,'' ``Shilo,'' ``Solitary Man'' and ``Play Me.'' A number of women in the section Diamond was facing when he sang the line ``Come take me'' jumped to their feet and screamed. He saved one of his best oldies, ``Sweet Caroline,'' for later in the show.
Diamond doesn't make a big deal out of getting the crowd to sing along -- he doesn't have to. But he subtly urged them on during ``Forever in Blue Jeans'' by calling out ``I like you!'' to a section of fans singing loudly. The next section sang even louder, and he informed those fans, ``I like you even better!'' The song had a big, showy ending, with Diamond shouting out ``Blue jeans, yeah!'' and the rhythm section pounding away. Along with such melodramatic schmaltz-pop classics as ``You Don't Bring Me Flowers'' and ``Love on the Rocks,'' Diamond also performed some songs from his new album of movie songs, including ``I Got You Under My Skin'' and ``I Can't Help Faling in Love With You.''
Diamond played for a generous two hours, mercifully eschewing an opening act and choosing not to milk the applause before his encore of ``Holly Holy'' and ``Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show.''
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