Forget Super Diamond and all those cheesy tribute acts.
There ain't nothing like the real Neil.
Neil Diamond's sold-out show Thursday, the first of a two-night stand at
the Rose garden arena, more than illustrated the saying, accept no imitation.
The pop legend put on a clinic for the cover bands that make a living these
days by copping his persona and playing note-for-note versions of his songs
on the lounge circuit. For a little more than two hours, Diamond enchanted
and enthralled the crowd of about 17,000 with a hit-laden set that showed
off his arena-size voice and charisma.
Opening with the loping title track from his 1976 album "Beautiful Noise",
the 58-year-old New Yorker ran through 28 songs covering the gamut of his
mega successful, three-decade-plus career.
Like fellow hit machine Elton John, Diamond has so many familiar tunes in
his vast repertoire that it's mind-boggling to hear him fire up one pop
classic after another on a concert setting.
Refreshingly free of the "serious" star posturing that seems de rigueur for
younger performers, Diamond makes no bones about being, first and foremost,
an entertainer. Instead of crafting a set list to evoke a particular mood
or following a theme, the singer and his well-oiled nine-member backing
band just cranked out the crowd faves as if they were a living juke box.
"I'm a Believer", "Cracklin' Rosie", "Cherry Cherry" and other AM pop radio
classics kept the predominantly baby boomer contingent on its feet and
dancing. Guilty pleasures such as "Song Sung Blue", "Forever in Blue Jeans"
and "Sweet Caroline" became big, gooey sing-alongs. And there were
show-stoppers galore, from the antemic immigration tale "America" to the
gospelish tent-revival triptych of "Soolaimon", "Holly Holy" and "Brother
Love's Traveling Salvation Show".
While the grandstand play to the back rows was undeniably fun, Diamond
really delivered the goods when the tempo slowed and the lights were low.
He demonstrated why he's a world-class ballad singer, emoting with a
vengeance through epic renditions of "If You Know What I Mean" and "I Am I
Diamonds insistence on limiting the songs to almost uniform
three-minutes-and-out arrangements was a distraction. Although it's
admirable that he wants to perform as many of his most popular songs as
possible, more than a few tunes were aborted just when the started to jell.
The few pieces that Diamond performed from his latest film music tribute,
"The Best of the Movie Album", pretty much landed with a dead thud.
Although his reading of "Unchained Melody" was strikingly beautiful, his
take on the "Casablanca" theme "As Time Goes By" was largely lifeless. And
despite his assertion that "a movie album couldn't be complete without a
song from our friend Elvis Presley", we wish that he'd abandoned during
rehearsal the king-size embarrassment of "Can't Help Falling in Love".
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