Neil Diamond

Concert Reviews - Spokane, WA August 17, 1999
 

Diamond shines at the Arena
The Spokesman-Review

Spokane Arena, Tuesday Night Aug. 17
By Jim Kershner

Neil Diamond closed his sold-out show at the Spokane Arena Tuesday with a

rousing version of "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," a fitting end

to a show which was practically a revival meeting itself.

The Arena was a big high-tech tent on this hot August night, and the crowd

was full of true believers. And out on stage was the charismatic preacher

himself, working the crowd into what can fairly be described as a frenzy.

The evening got off to an inauspicious start when some non-believer drove

up and down a long line of cars waiting to get into the Arena parking lot and

repeatedly yelled, "Neil Diamond stinks!" or a word that also begins with an

S and ends with a K.

Many people share that sentiment, and while I wouldn't go that far, I will

admit that my admiration for the man peaked in about 1967. But the opposite

viewpoint was far more in evidence Tuesday night. After all, that was one

guy yelling at hundreds of cars backed up from the Arena parking lot all the

way into Riverfront Park. That's the kind of backup you get when 12,000

people converge on the Arena. Obviously, Diamond has been doing something

right over the last 30-plus years.

And when the show began, it was easy to see what it was. Diamond is as

good as any tent-meeting revivalist at working a crowd and making people feel

they are part of a vast, joyous communal experience. Like Brother Love, he

reaches out to the audience constantly (often literally) and encourages them

to connect with him. And not only does he have the charisma to pull this

off, but he also has the music.

Diamond's best songs all have an element of the gospel tent to them. First

there was "Thank the Lord for the Night Time," one of his best and earliest

hits, which combines an infectious three-chord rock 'n' roll guitar sound

with a a good-time gospel attitude. Then there was "Holly Holy," a haunting

hymn whose chorus could just as easily be "Hallelujah." Then there was

"Soolaiman," an African-tinged song that reaches back to the roots of gospel.

And finally, just to make it plain as day, there was "Brother Love's

Traveling Salvation Show," complete with a sermon by Brother Diamond about

the need to reach out to one's brothers and sisters.

For me, the show's high points were the gospel numbers and the old, simple

songs such as "Cherry Cherry," "Solitary Man," and even his hit for the

Monkees, "I'm a Believer." These songs were light on the synthesizers and

light on the bombast.

The low points were much heavier on both, such as a snooze-inducing

"Jonathan Livingston Seagull" segment which sounded like Rod McKuen crossed

with Yanni. The other low point came when Diamond sang three songs from his

recent movie-theme album, "As Time Goes By," "Unchained Melody" and "Can't

Help Falling in Love." This latter song was symbolic of Diamond's penchant

for excess. Timpani on an Elvis tune? Isn't that a bit much? In all of

these movie songs, his idiosyncratic phrasing and odd vocal tics made it

clear why Diamond made his name as a singer-songwriter and not as an

interpreter of standards.

The rest of this two-hour-plus show featured a catalog of Diamond's

mid-period hits, some of them undeniably well-crafted pop tunes such as

"Sweet Caroline" and "Cracklin' Rosie," and others bordering on '70s schlock

such as "I Am, I Said," "Song Sung Blue" and "Play Me," which contains the

immortal lyric, "song you sang to me, song you brang to me."

Oh well, Everybody, including Paul McCartney, put out a lot of junk in the

'70s.

Neil is past that now, and he seems content to bask in a formidable catalog

of hits and the adoration of the crowd.

Adoration would be too strong a word for what I felt, but a least I

understand it now. I may not be a true believer, but I don't think that the

"Neil Diamond stinks!" guy has it right, either.


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