By Candice Mcfarland
TIMES STAFF WRITER
I can't be sure of the first time I heard a Neil Diamond record. It could have been in the womb. My parents were fans and his songs were family staples.
By 1984, when I was 9, my family had two of his tapes that we would listen to often on the car ride to school or dance class. But like a typical preteen, I drove my mom nuts by turning on Top 40 songs on the radio. "Smooth Operator" by Sade came out that year. My mom wasn't fond of it or pop music in general. So in the middle of the song that I could only imagine was about life and love at the telephone company, I would stick in "Love at the Greek" or "Hot August Night" and all would be serene again. Here were songs that touched us both, and for a 9-year-old and a 36-year-old, that was pretty good.
I look back on that now and realize that Sade, and others like her, created songs that boxed her into a year or a decade, while Neil Diamond's songs have a universal appeal that will never go out of style.
And that's why today, Tuesday, Aug. 10, I solemnly confess to my generation -- the generation that would be unable to distinguish Neil Diamond from Barry Manilow in a lineup -- that I am still, at 23, a fan. And that's why I jumped at the chance to see him in concert (for the first time) Sunday at the San Jose Arena.
He's exactly how you imagine -- a slim man with gray hair wearing tight black slacks and a royal blue long-sleeved shirt with sequin detail. I closed my eyes as he sang "Hello" and just paid attention to his rich, full voice. It sounds the same as it did 25 years ago. Diamond has that easy-going energy, that ability to sound both fresh and nostalgic in the same verse.
There were few of the special effects that seem a prerequisite for a concert today. The most exciting moment in that department was flags being unfurled during "America." The revolving stage, on which he and his nine-piece band rotated during the whole show, was pretty cool.
But what people really came for were Diamond's familiar songs and voice, and that's what they got. He played 28 songs, for a little more than two hours, and nearly all of them were hits the audience was dying to hear. He couldn't have asked for a more receptive audience; they ate up every word he said and screamed their hearts out unless he was in the middle of a ballad. From "Love on the Rocks" to "I'm a Believer" (the song the Monkees made into a Top 40 hit) and "Brooklyn Roads" to "Cherry, Cherry," Diamond, 58, delivered to the nearly sold-out arena. And his band was absolutely perfect, re-creating Diamond's hits seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly.
But not everything went smoothly. After wooing some of the front row during one song, Diamond walked back onstage and his drummer motioned to him that his pants zipper was down. Diamond was a little taken aback, but took care of business and continued on.
The second most bizarre moment of the night was when he finished "Sweet Caroline," only to ask the audience if they wanted to hear it again. They cheered, so he started it over again, this time intoning his fans to sing "Whoa, whoa, whoa" at various times.
His new double-album, "The Movie Album -- As Time Goes By," received ample representation without taking up too much of the concert. The album consists of movie songs such as "Casablanca's" "As Time Goes By" and "Unchained Melody" from the films "Unchained" and "Ghost." But when he finished the "Movie Album" songs, Diamond shouted, "OK, it's time to get back to Neil Diamond songs," to which the audience boisterously cheered.
People say that Beck, Lauryn Hill and R.E.M. are my generation's musical geniuses. They might be. But what shines through in Diamond's recordings -- and even more intensely in concert -- is a spirit and honesty largely devoid from Gen-X artists. And that's why I'll probably find myself listening to his albums my entire life.
A few months ago, my mom picked me up from the airport and the band Portishead was on the radio. I glanced at Mom giving me the Look and silently slipped in "Love at the Greek," listening to the familiar opening chords of "Song Sung Blue." Mom smiled. And for a 23-year-old and a 51-year-old, that's pretty good.
Candice McFarland is a copy editor with the Times. Diamondheads can reach her at 925-977-8421.
Mercury never published a review of the show. So I will give you my
I have seen Neil eight times in the past fifteen years in the bay area.
I enjoyed this concert as much as any I have seen in that time span. It
wasn't the flashiest or jazziest but equally as fulfilling as any I have
This one was more like getting together for a big reunion. Exhcanging
pleasantries with others wearing the same t-shirt that you bought the
last time we gathered together for the big reunion back in '96 for the
tour of the inspiring Tennessee Moon album.
As always he performed for two and a half hours without stopping. He
sang all the hits we sing a long with and a few I hadn't heard live in
years. We all sang together for Forever in Blue Jeans and Sweet Caroline
and were captivated for the Johnathan Livingston Seagull Suite, Girl
You'll Be a Woman Soon and Solitary Man.
I did miss the green laser beams bouncing around the massive auditorium
as they had in years past for America and Headed for the Future. I will
never forget seeing a christmas tree rise what seemed like 50-feet to
the ceiling to a concert of Christmas songs like I have never heard
before back in '93 for Neil's inagural performance at the SJ Arena.
However, at this stage of my life as a Neil Diamond fan it was more
about feeling the connection that I felt with other 15,000 plus felt
with the performer. Thankfully, I have experienced the full spectrum of
Neil Diamond conerts that he has done since the early 80's and I was
equally as elated to experience this one with my family. The only thing
I can conclude with is I hope he has another tour or two left him.
Thanks to Neil and his band for another memorable evening and
The Porters from Mountain View, CA
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