The Austin American Statesman's Review Date: 11-22-96
Headline: Diamond lets serious tone taint concert

A cryptic message came over the speakers at the Erwin Center on Thursday, just moments before Neil Diamond took the stage. ``Ladies and gentleman, we remind you: No one will be seated during the first song. Please take your seats. Immediately.'' And that more or less set the mood for the rest of the evening: serious. Too serious. It was Diamond's first concert in Austin in 10 years, and, as he told the adoring crowd of 14,000 or so, he had ``a lot of songs to make up for it.'' That included new tracks off his country album ``Tennessee Moon,'' as well as nearly 30 standards, including ``Hello Again,'' ``Forever in Blue Jeans'' and ``America.''

Following an orchestrated entrance accompanied by a hokey laser display (think seagulls done to an '80s Pink Floyd light show), Diamond made his way around the round stage in the center of the arena. Like every serious performer does, he blew the crowd a few kisses while they tried salvaging their eyesight from the silver lame stripes running up and down his blouse. It would have been a sleek shirt, except for the ladies- style shoulder pads.

Diamond and his 10-piece band started off with early hits such as ``Crunchy Granola Suite,'' ``Solitary Man'' and ``Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon.'' It wasn't until ``Cherry, Cherry'' that the crowd got on its feet, after Diamond's urging. That on-your-feet thing is important to him.

Later, when the crowd quickly sat down after ``Forever in Blue Jeans,'' he yelled, ``I guess we better do that one again.'' They did it again. The fans weren't all longtime Diamond devotees, though. Up until a few years ago, if you were to ask an MTV-raised kid who Neil Diamond was, you would have heard, ``Didn't he cover UB40's `Red Red Wine.''' But recently, he has become somewhat of a cult figure (as much as someone with 93 million albums sold can be a cult figure), appearing on several hip soundtracks and, in Austin, acting as savior to an all-for-fun cover band called the Diamond Smugglers.

At least partially, Diamond's value in the '90s is kitsch. That's what most of the young fans at Thursday's concert came for. His slick, show-business style is something missing in so many of today's performers, who you hesitate to even call stars.

Neil Diamond is a star, no question. But he's just no fun. He never was, and for the many seeing him for the first time, it came as a great letdown. Those who had seen him before saw the same old, passionate, husky-voiced Neil Diamond, the one who sang ``Love on the rocks, ain't no big surprise,'' without cracking the slightest of a smile; the one who put all his emotions into ``You Don't Bring Me Flowers.'' The one who Michael Bolton and Celene Dion can only hope to become when they're 55.

c 1995 Austin American-Statesman

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