By Chris Macias
Bee Pop Music Writer
(Published Aug. 7, 1999)
A Neil Diamond show is much more than just a concert for his fans. It's a pilgrimage to the Planet Diamond. Before his concert Thursday night, cars snaked up Interstate 5 en route to a sold-out Arco Arena. It wasn't exactly a hot August night outside, but more than 16,000 "Diamond-heads" were brought to a fever pitch time after time as the result of Diamond's exuberant showmanship.
The two-hour, 27-song set was performed with Diamond in the round. The circular stage glowed with a palette of colors. It spun like a Lazy Susan and looked like a UFO that had taken a pit stop in Las Vegas. Diamond moved about freely, dressed all in black, and waved to fans time and again.
With a jukebox full of hit songs and showy charm, it's no wonder that Diamond has packed concert halls for decades. He mixed "aww shucks" charm with dramatic gesturing, often shooting his arms skyward to punctuate rhythm. And he moved seamlessly between ballads and peppy numbers.
Diamond could never be tagged as being subtle. His appreciation for the audience was usually a bombastic, "Thank you!" When he sang "Play Me," it sounded more like "Play meeeeeeeeeeeeee." Diamond also loved to milk applause at the end of songs while his nine-piece backing band held an ending chord, such as in the finale of "Forever in Blue Jeans."
He's also a master of connecting with a crowd and knew how to personalize his audience. Before singing "Hello Again," he described Sacramento as "the city of trees" and spoke somberly about tensions in the world. Once he was into the song, it felt as if he were personally greeting the audience ("Hello, my friend, hello").
In that song, the vibrato in his voice was molasses-thick and shaded with smokiness. Throughout the night his bellowing baritone sounded clear and rang with character. "Love on the Rocks" was also sung with a wild vibrato, while "Solitary Man" was equally brooding and sultry.
Diamond's set list was paced with precision. "Forever in Blue Jeans," paired back-to-back with "I'm a Believer," was a peppy duo of songs that brought the crowd out of their seats, as did the one-two punch of "Song Sung Blue" with "Cracklin' Rosie."
The two songs that ended the main set -- "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and "I Am ... I Said" -- moved into each other to make a powerful finale. After the final strains of the bittersweet "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," Diamond and his band launched into "I Am ... I Said." It was as if the crescendo into the first chorus of "I Am ... I Said" had started with the previous song. Diamond's encores featured "Holly Holy" and "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show."
Diamond's knack for storytelling through his songs was also conveyed well, from his days as a boy growing up in Brooklyn in the nostalgia-tinged "Brooklyn Roads," and the "did you ever read about the frog who became a king" verse of "I Am ... I Said."
And even though Diamond may not have a new album out, he still took a couple of moments to plug some of his products. He mentioned the new Neil Diamond signature guitar from Gibson (black, of course), modeled after the Gibson Everly Brothers model he had wanted so badly as an up-and-coming musician. Before he launched into a trio of movie songs ("As Time Goes By," "Unchained Melody" and Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love") from his album "The Movie Album: As Time Goes By," he joked, "You all have that one, don't you?"
In the end, Diamond didn't just sing to the crowd, he performed through them. The show
had plenty of glitzy charm, as highlighted in a rousing version of "America."
While Diamond sang that song, American flags draped down to the stage, and an army of red,
white and blue lights illuminated the setting. All that seemed to be missing was an indoor
CHRIS MACIAS is The Bee's pop music writer. Write to him at The Bee, P.O. Box 15779,
Sacramento, CA 95852; call (916) 321-1253 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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