Manchester, England Concert Reviews 1999



NO LACK OF LUSTRE AS NEIL IS JEWEL IN THE TOWN

Neil Diamond in concert at the Manchester Evening News Arena
Story by ADAM MOSS

It was the turn of the mums, dads and grandparents to shake a leg at the

Manchester Evening News Arena on Saturday - and in Neil Diamond they found a

willing co-conspirator.

The American legend appeared in a jewel-encrusted shirt and black slacks to a

rapturous welcome from the 15,000 50-somethings, all gathered to pay homage to

the man who had given them three decades of hits.

And they weren't disappointed.

Diamond, playing in the round, built his formidable set around a back

catalogue teeming with anthems and hit ballads. Even the younger ones in

attendance would have been hard pushed not to recognise the familiar tones of

hits like Love On The Rocks, Hello Again, You Don't Bring Me Flowers and Sweet

Caroline.

Familiar melodies were never far away and when the well did look like running

dry, Diamond plumped for a selection of his personal favourites from the

movies.

The Righteous Brothers' Unchained Melody, Elvis Presley's Can't Help Falling

In Love and Sinatra's I've Got You Under My Skin all received Diamond's

throaty treatment.

There were some truly memorable moments. The singers duet with his female

backing vocalist on You Don't Bring Me Flowers was particularly well received.

At one point, Diamond talked in glowing terms about his home town, Brooklyn,

then burst into a rousing version of the hugh anthem, America.

For three minutes at least, the Arena resembled a massive evangelical

convention, with Diamond as the Billy Graham feature and his fans as the

religious devotees.

But nothing was quite a memorable as the piercing scream of a particularly

enthusiastic fan, which brought the house to its knees with laughter between

songs. Even Diamond was forced to suspend his monologue until the scream and

the ensuing hilarity had subsided.

But it was that kind of night and that kind of show. The kind of show Elvis

would be doing were he still alive today. Fans, most old enough to know

better, were cooing and oohing like love-struck teenagers at a Boyzone gig.

The spectre of grandmas shrieking and wolf whistling like 17 year-olds is a

little disconcerting at first. But who says that age should be a restriction

for a good time. It was no worse, or no better than a larger than life family

party - the kind where gran always gets drunk and makes a fool of herself on

the dance floor.

But at 58, Diamond is still performing like a youngster to an audience largely

the same age.

There were a few giveaway signs that the years may be starting to catch up

with him, but on the whold, Diamond is still singing and dancing just as well

as he did in his formative years.

Shame about the shirt, though.

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Fan Review by George Cooke

Venue: Nynex (Manchester Evening News) Arena, Manchester.
Neil on stage: 8.18pm
Concert ended: 10.25pm
Neil wore: Silver sparkling shirt

Was the Diamond sparkling tonight?

How was the opening?

The opening recorded composite intro is interesting musically, containing

figures from Neil's songs, but gentler than the scrapbook of In My Lifetime.

Neil greeted all areas of the Arena during Beautiful Noise.

What was the stage setup like?

'In the Round' - a giant turntable with Neil able to be in the raised centre

hub and coming outside to connect with different areas of the Arena.

The band ensconced as the filling of a giant flan, with Neil as the

..Cherry, Cherry (sorry, sorry)

How about the Band?

Seasoned pros. The sound was excellent, smooth sythesisers and crystal-clear

percussion and guitars. Superb especially during the oldies bit and the

Movie Album segments. King gave away his sticks at the end.

Was it a Diamond Audience?

Well, the Diamondheads were there at the front on the floor, but the

audience otherwise was mixed. I heard some of those who'd been to the

Scottish concerts say that the Manchester audience wasn't warm. I'd agree-I

think it's just Manchester. Neil connected with all areas of the arena

(putting his hand across his brow to look out on several occasions). It was

a sell-out, with most of the tiers standing for the Cracklin' Rosies etc.

Apart from the Movie Album, what recent albums were represented?

Tennessee Moon, then back to the Jazz Singer and before.

Any songs different from their originals?

Actually, some songs have been reorchestrated to put them closer to their

originals: The oldies especially. Beautiful Noise was not as bouncy,

Brooklyn Roads was slower. Neil seems to have put a lot of work in trying to

authenticate his image as a real singer-songwriter.

Highlights:

Although it was consistently good-

America, of course, Solitary Man, Cracklin' Rosie, I Am...I Said, Holly Holy

and the Movie Album songs.

Neil striking his first chord on his Gibson signature guitar - This told us

how real he is. Only he can strike a pose like this.

Lowlights:

None, except for the capacity audience who weren't Irish or Scottish-enough

to let their hair down as a whole.

Overall:

Neil's voice was smoother and mellower than last time I remember. He seemed

relaxed and controlled and really delivered his songs sweetly and

meaningfully. His gestures and stances were sincere and confident. His

banter was natural and not overly 'out of breath'. Neil looked great,

belying his age, but he didn't try to look anything else than what he was: a

singer singing his songs.

The stage was brilliant, allowing all ends the chance to see him from all

angles (the sight of him from behind singing to the crowd brings you almost

onto the stage with him looking out).

This concert performance was almost faultless, with Neil finally doing some

of his songs justice, without screaming them. The voice was better than it

has been for years and the song performance easily better than Hot August

Night 2.

Playlist:

Beautiful Noise: Neil greeted all areas around the circle.

Can Anybody Hear Me?: "Is anybody up there?"

Hello Again: Neil breaking the ice by invoking everyone to give the person

on their right a kiss! A superbly delivered song, with his rich baritone

really great!

If You Know What I Mean: Beautiful

Thank The Lord For The Nighttime: Neil's signature Gibson acoustic helping

to authenticate a remarkable sound with the edge reminiscent of his early

Bang recordings. A bit of Doug 'n' Hadley at the start.

Cherry Cherry: Never tiresome, seems like a new song - kept the crowd on its

feet.

Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon: Haunting accompaniment with a sincere and

innocent vocal. The minor mood could only be followed by...

Solitary Man: Even more poignant after the last few years - a wonderful

chugging accompaniment from the band.

Shilo: Mellow and earnest.

Play Me: Those Diamondheads don't need any encouragement. The guitar part

came through crystal clear - a sheer delight!

Brooklyn Roads: Better than the version on the 1992 compilation, having a

rich bass sound. It somehow seems right that Neil should sing this -

reminding us of his lack of superstar airs. He was being himself tonight.

Forever In Blue Jeans: The sight of the sea of standing clappers as a

background to Neil is why the merrygoround stage is so cool.

Jonathan Seagull Suite-

Be: Neil's hand gestures were sincere, the lighting was cleverly sequenced.

Lonely Looking Sky: The calming blue lights set the scene well.

Sanctus: Neil's shirt turned to gold under the lights!

Skybird: Neil's seagull arms gave a visual sign of how proud he is of this

music - spiritually warming, with a wonderfully voiced lyric.

America: Neil's body is still, his face gives away how much effort he is

putting into every phrase. The flags came down to cheers from most of the

audience. (This was not a Dublin crowd!)

Love On The Rocks: Beautiful, although the sound balance occasionally

drowned Neil out on the louder bits.

Band Interlude-

Sabre Dance: Neil stayed on stage, on a shooting-stick! It was good to see

the band deliver a great piece of music. Good rhythm. Neil told us

afterwards he gives them the choice - A raise or a solo!

As Time Goes By: Neil's voice was mellow and rich.

Unchained Melody: Sensitively delivered as if it was Neil's song in the

first place.

I Got You Under My Skin: Neil doesn't croon, he squeezes the emotion out of

every sentiment. You can't sing-along as you are so struck by Neil's sincere

interpretation.

Can't Help Falling In Love: A hysterical scream made the whole band pause,

but it helped bring us all back to life as we were in danger of being

serenaded to a gentle sleep! We sang along in the end.

Song Sung Blue: Relaxed and swaying - far from karaokee fodder.

Cracklin' Rosie: Only the stewards remained seated. Neil played with the

crowd in different areas, gesturing and doing his Jazz Singer hands-on-hips

pose.

Sweet Caroline: Neil trained the audience to get in the "Woh, woh, woh"s and

a "So good, so good, so good" ready for "Next time we come to town".

You Don't Bring Me Flowers: Linda gets her spot and chance to drive the

'heads wild with jealousy.

I Am..I Said: Neil guitarless with nothing to proove. His open palms removed

this song into the territory where only Neil - the writer - could sing it as

wonderfully as this.

Holy Holly: Neil at the hub of the stage, a rich delivery doing justice to

the hymnal tones of the song.

Crunchy Granola Suite: Neil really gave this to the audience.

Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show: Neil's feet had been together most

of the show, his slim figure moving seductively to the rhythm - then they

parted and Brother Love delivered for the nineties "Black and white, rich

and poor, Gay and Straight...". The hunched torso almost bearing the

expectations of all his fans on his shoulders. A cracking finale. AMEN!

General:

As a fan since my formative years, I have only admiration for the longevity

of, not only Neil, but for his songs. A back catalogue that continues to

defy pigeon-holing (despite the AOR, MOR cliches), was delivered with

feeling and professionalism. I have always recognised that the performer

delivers differently each single time a song is sung, and, as fans, we

cherish the contrasts of the Hot August Nights and the Cool (but getting

milder) February Nights.

Neil's setlist tonight could never have done justice to his phenomenal back

catalogue (even just playing one song from each album would take up the

whole concert!), but I had hoped for something a bit more obscure. I'm not

sure whether Neil underestimates the quality of his other material.

Nevertheless, Sabre Dance and the Beautiful Noise songs were present. Recent

original Diamond albums (Headed for the Future, The Best Years..., Lovescape

and Tennessee Moon) I feel deserve more consideration for future shows -

after all, all the real fans know that there was life after the Jazz Singer.

I sense that Diamond's true image (loner on stage, performing his own songs

for loyal fans, ploughing his own furrow regardless of trends, producing

songs that aren't ever to buried in time, delivering a show) places him as

an icon to be followed by the resurgence in singer-songwriters today. If you

can relate to the songwriter, then you should relate to Neil Diamond.

Sadly, though, Neil has always suffered wrongly from MOR status, and only

his fans have upheld the true strength of his songs. Neil's delivery tonight

was flawless, rich and justifying his status in the hearts of so many. He

performs not for himself, but for us.

Tell me it's uncool to appreciate Neil Diamond, just consider who else's

songs are all so well known internationally. Tonight was more than an

enormous sing-a-long. The man we saw tonight deserves a mention in the same

breath as Garth Brooks, John Denver and Frank Sinatra - as to many fans, he

is a part of all these rolled into one and then some. To others, he is just

someone easy to criticise.

The songs played tonight ranged from having their roots in Tin Pan Alley,

through Greenwich Village, via LA, New York, along the valleys of the Deep

South through to the romanticism of the cinema. They touch on the

controversial (appreciated by Urge Overkill in Pulp Fiction), the

reflective, the catchy and the romantic urges in us all. They represent the

feelings of nearly 60 years of maturing on this planet - all the while

possessing the power of the popular song - albeit American.

Personally, I can't wait for Neil's next visit.

If tonight was anything to go by, Neil is better than he ever has been.

 

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