London England Concert Reviews March 1999
A MOVEABLE FEAST - BY ANN SCANLON - THE TIMES.
The first of Neil Diamond's five sold - out shows at Wembley Arena generated
such excitement that most of the crowd had settled into their seats long
before their hero appeared .To pass the time, they reacted with increasing
enthusiasm to the pre-show announcements.You can understand why they might get
worked up by the words "Neil Diamond will be onstage in a few moments",but the
cheers that met the command "No smoking in the auditorium"sounded rather
bizarre at a rock concert.
The show is billed as "Neil Diamond in the Round",and the main feature is a
revolving stage built in the middle of each arena.The set-up lent the show an
intimacy that you don't normally associate with Wembley and seemed to fuel the
crowds fervour to such a pitch that,by the time Diamond took the stage,the
entire auditorium was standing up,ready to clap along to the triumphant
Dressed in black, Diamond was backed by a nine-piece band comprising of two
guitarists,three drummers,two keyboard players,a bassist and a female backing
singer,all strategically placed around the revolving stage."Can Anybody Hear
Me?"he yelled after "Beautiful Noise", inciting an even louder one, then he
urged everyone to turn to the person on their right and give them a great big
kiss. "We are here to break down barriers,"he said,adding a quick reference to
the British-American trade war.
"Who cares about bananas?"
The two-and-a half hour set that ensued relied on Diamond classics - "Forever
in Blue Jeans","I'm A Believer","Song Sung Blue","Cracklin' Rosie","Sweet
Caroline"and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" - rather than anything new and
throughout them all,the singer had the crowd entranced,responding to one
woman's call with:"Darlin',I love you, too."
Musically,the highlight came after just four songs when the lights went low
and Diamond strapped on a black Gibson Guitar."I once dreamt of owning an
Everly Brothers guitar,a Gibson," he said."And now the Gibson company have
come out with a Neil Diamond guitar.But let's see if it works before I go
round bragging about it."He then strummed the first chord of his early hit
"Cherry Cherry",dramatically announced:"It works!",and continued through the
dark moods of Girl,You'll Be a Woman Soon" and "Solitary Man".
Later,Diamond performed songs from his latest record "The Movie Album - As
Time Goes By",his version of "Can't Help Falling In Love" given added
resonance by the fact that drummer Ronnie Tutt had also played with Elvis
Presley during his Las Vegas period. The show ended with "He Ain't Heavy He's
My Brother,"the song made famous by the Hollies,with Diamond circling the
stage to wave in every direction,before parting with a phrase that you might
have expected:"Thank you,London,we love you".
NEIL DIAMOND - WEMBLEY ARENA - 08/03/99.
THE BEST EVER ?
This was one of the great Neil Diamond concerts. In over 20 years of seeing
Neil perform live,including shows on the current tour,this performance might
just have been the best I have ever seen.
I don't know why, but you could sense this was going to be special as soon as
you walked into the arena. It was almost as is their was a little tension in
the air,the atmosphere was heavy and the arena was unusually full up to half
an hour before the scheduled start.
The sense of anticipation was high and even a few,sporadic, slow handclaps
broke out as the audience grew impatient for Neil to hit the stage.
When the intro eventually got underway,it somehow seemed different(it
wasn't),I geuss it was just the audiences reaction to the lights dimming and
the increasing audible level of excitement.
When the band took to the stage, people were already on their feet and none
were sitting when Neil launched into "Beautiful Noise".
The sound on the opening number was a little muffled,but no one really cared
as a riotously apt "Can Anybody Here Me?" followed.
Decorum (and the sound quality) was quickly restored with the ever esquisite
Neil was clearly as "up" for this performance as I have ever seen him.His
banter was humorous and natural.He introduced the 11'500 crowd to his
new,customised,"Neil Diamond Gibson Guitar",before launching into "Cherry
Cherry" and then thanked the Spice Girls for enabling the borough of Brooklyn
to be named after the latest "Spice Baby"!
And after a momentous "I''m A Believer", Neil sparred with the
crowd,saying,"perhaps I should give this up....I can't go on anymore",to which
the audience roared their disapproval.He then retorted,"NO! I AIN'T GONNA GIVE
THIS UP UNTIL I'M DEAD"!
The roar of approval was louder still.
He had to calm things down,and he did,as the "Jonathan Suite"and selections
from "The Movie Album",gave Neil (and the audience) the chance to draw breath.
But the finale was just one long partying mutual appreciation society.....I
swear Neil stood and milked the applause that followed "Sweet Caroline" for a
good two minutes,indeed just as it appeared to taper off,the audience stamped
their feet like an on coming express train, and the pandemonium simply broke
During the so apt and poignant final number,"He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother, I
did not notice one person leave for a quick getaway.
This was a truly remarkable show,by a remarkable artist and when the audience
reluctantly left the arena I impulsively grabbed my wife and hugged
her.......somtimes life can be very sweet.
RE: Concert Review - London, UK (09 March,1999) (Fan Review by David
'THANK THE LORD FOR NEIL
Wembley Arena, London, 09
There is only one adjective to describe Neil Diamond's performance at
Wembley Arena on Tuesday 9th March - sensational.
As a Diamond fan since the age of 8 and a 'veteran' attendee of Diamond
concerts in the UK since 1984 this tour (in this reviewer's opinion) is the
best Diamond has ever done on these shores.
This tour seems to have been more low-key than others from a media point of
view : no TV appearances and few press interviews as the media go chasing
other less durable stars of the moment. Live concert appearances in front
of 10,000 plus ecstatic fans is a young man's game and one senses am
element of bewilderment and occasional sour grapes on the part of any rock
critic under the age of 40 to fully comprehend why a 58 year old with a
gravel voice and without a hit single for almost 20 years can still break
box-office records night after night wherever he and his band set up stage.
Perhaps they should listen to Neil Diamond's music, especially the songs
the great man penned through the 1960's and 70's. These songs still sound
as fresh today as they did then. Simple, uncluttered, yet sophisticated all
at once. Throughout his remarkable career Neil Diamond has not just made
records - he has written songs. He is the epitome of the craft of
songwriting, something achieved by only a handful of artists. Yet Diamond's
achievement is all the more remarkable because in a career spanning more
than 30 years he has spanned all categories of music and remains
unclassifiable. Sinatra, Presley, The Monkees, Deep Purple, UB40 and Urge
Overkill to name but a few have all covered Diamond songs and there will
doubtless be other covers in future from unlikely sources. If the test of a
good song is its resilience and ability to be pulled apart, turned upside
down or inside out and covered by artists from Heavy Metal through to
Country then Diamond has surely achieved some kind of songwriting nirvana.
Yet, for all this Diamond struggles to throw off his reputation as a
'crooner' and has been unfairly pigeon-holed in the 'Cheesy Listening'
sector of the market. He is neither one thing nor the other. He is
continually evolving as an artist, one minute writing bubblegum pop or
popular standards and the next writing semi-classical film scores or
country-tinged albums or belting out rock and roll at live concerts. One
wonders quite what is coming next. An operatic debut perhaps?
Neil Diamond concert openings are always a bit special and it is apparent
that Diamond puts a lot of thought into these to create exactly the right
mood. Though simpler with less visual effects (no lasers, strobes or
seagulls this time) the aural backdrop of 'Brooklyn Roads' and 'Hello
Again' was spine-tingling and one could feel the excitement building.
Diamond's crack band struck up and started to build the tension further
with the opening bars of the marvellously jaunty 'Beautiful Noise'. To the
sound of a beautiful beat Diamond appeared and sent his legion of fans into
a frenzy. After all, it had been almost 3 years.
Looking leaner and fitter than ever before Diamond bounced through this
opening number and went onto 'Can Anybody Hear Me' (is this becoming a
concert regular?) with the predictable crowd reaction and then into 'Hello
Again'. The wonderfully understated 'If You Know What I Mean' followed with
its dramatic build up to the chorus and was true testimony to Diamond's
impressive vocal range and power.
Then Neil announced it was time for some rock 'n' roll. (Let's face it
members of the flock, this is what we like best). Neil cajoled Dougie and
Hadley to do their thing on electric guitar and suddenly Neil was off into
'Thank The Lord For The Night TIme' which had everyone from 8-80 on their
feet. Then that all too rare moment when Neil strapped on his famous black
guitar and strummed some (unfretted) chords that could only mean 'Cherry
Cherry' was about to be unleashed. Still on their feet, the crowd rocked to
this one and seemed somewhat hesitant to sit down as he progressed through
the delightful 'Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon' to the Beatlesque 'Solitary
Regrettably, he took off his 'Neil Diamond' guitar but then launched into
'Forever in Blue Jeans' and 'Shilo', both of which had us all out of our
seats again. Then came the marvellously reworked and slower version of
'Brooklyn Roads' with its hypnotic bass notes and twisting, weaving melody.
For various reasons, this song obviously means a great deal to Neil. Neil
then treated us to a pulsating version of I'm A Believer' which had us all
up out of our seats again. We then had a selection of songs from JLS (Be,
Lonely Looking Sky, Dear Father and the delicious Skybird). The lighting
effects during these songs were superb and heightened the spiritual
If Jonathan was the tale of the dream and the dreamer Neil led us into the
dream that had led his grandparents to the New World and whilst 'America'
may not rouse the same sense of patriotism or identity in British audiences
its driving rhythm and beat are surely appreciated. 'Play Me' followed and
its wonderfully poetic and simple chorus seems to have developed into a
sing-a-long fo rmost of the audience. Screams from female members of the
crowd at any reference to the words 'bed' or 'come take me' have become
customary and Neil allows for these in the song without disturbing the
natural flow of the melody line.
With apologies if I have lost the order of the songs...) Neil then let the
band 'do their thing' on 'Sabre Dance' - a rarely heard Diamond work from
the late 70's. This sounded remarkably like the original and all credit to
the band. The haunting melody and driving bass line of this piece are again
testimony to Diamond's versatility as a musician.
Neil then moved onto Love On The Rocks'. With a predictable movie link Neil
spoke about his new Movie album and said he'd like to do a couple of songs.
First he sang 'Unchained Melody' marvellously (not an easy song to sing)
and then proceeded to 'I've Got You Under My Skin'/Sinatra Suite' and
finally the Elvis classic 'Can't Help Falling in Love'. (Reviewer's note
-Yes, Neil did sing all these songs superbly well and I can understand why
he wants to sing his new songs during a show as it is important for an
artist to go on being creative but these are not ND songs. Most of us would
prefer to hear some self-penned classics. There is definitely room in the
show for some other rarely heard Diamond Gems such as 'Sunday Sun', 'Glory
Road', Morningside', And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind' or 'The Story Of My
Life' or any other ND song. I'd be interested to know what other fans
think. By the way, what happened to Soolaimon?)
By the end of 'Falling in Love' the audience were getting restless and
suddenly Neil piped up 'It's time for some Neil Diamond songs' .Right on,
Neil. Right on!
We had 'Song Sung Blue' with everyone standing and arm-waving and the
irresistible 'Cracklin' Rosie' which had everyone including the stewards
dancing along. This was followed by 'Sweet Caroline' (smart move to follow
Rosie with this one - something he's been doing since the mid-nineties). We
had 3 reprises of this one and Neil worked the crowd like the consummate
showman but took care never to cross the thin line between showmanship and
schmaltz. He got it just right and I haven't seen Neil as relaxed as this
since his last night at Earls Court in London in 1984.
From Caroline (woh, woh, wohs and all) we had the soul-searching 'I Am, I
Said' (Reviewer's note: don't let anyone tell you that the line about the
chair is a 'clunky' lyric or that he 'pulled' this line. It fits perfectly
and Neil knew what he was writing. ND does NOT write clunky lyrics, so
there). We all know by now that I Am, I Said is Neil's sign-off tune and
sure enough the band played on and Neil toured the stage to thank and say
goodbye to the crowd. He then proceeded to walk down the stage steps and
held his hands out in a shrug-like manner as if to ask why the crowd would
not let him go. Showmanship again but never schmaltz on this tour). On he
came again and told us he and the band may 'just have a few more' left to
play. Come off it, Neil, we knew you'd do it.
The magnificent 'Holly Holy' followed. This is possibly one of ND's most
underrated songs and this was one of the best versions I have ever heard or
seen him do. This song sounds better live than on record because it has a
drive and energy on stage that just did not come across in the studio.
Arguably, it is the strongest lyric ND has ever written and it has assumed
almost religious tones. This song would not be out place on an album of
rock anthems. Great stuff Neil. Brother Love concluded the whole affair and
it is remarkable that Neil continues to belt out this song in the manner he
has done for years as it must strain his vocal chords considerably.
Of course, a fan's review will never be unbiased or impartial. However, I
agree with all British fan reviews so far that this does appear to have
been the best ND tour of the UK for many years. Neil seems genuinely happy
and relaxed and is obviously enjoying life and touring.
As a lifelong fan of 34 years of age I always enjoy the build-up and
anticipation of ND concerts in the UK yet feel a sense of sadness
afterwards knowing that we are beginning another cycle of a least 3 years
until the next time. In many ways it is harder for non-US based ND fans
because there is such little media coverage of him. Maybe I should get out
more but despite the sniggers of non-Diamond fans I am always proud to
state my allegiance to ND because I genuinely believe that his music is
special and different. I no longer get incensed at the critics who knock
him because it seems to me that thee people don't know their 'gluteus
maximus' from their 'humerus'. As a former medical student, I'm sure Neil
would agree. Unhip, uncool maybe but Neil Diamond's ability as a
songwriter, his sincerity, his regard for his fans and his ability to defy
trends and categorisation within the fickle world of the music industry are
the very reason for his enduring success and massive following.
11 March, 1999