The Cleveland Plain Dealer
June 29, 1996
Wether Old or New, the Songs Still Sparkle
by Jane Scott

Neil Diamond was handed a 1967 clipping just before his concert Thursday at Gund Arena. It announced that his Ohio Teen Fair concert at Chippewa Lake would cost $1.50, but with a newspaper coupon, you could get in for $1. ''And I was worth every penny of it!'' he joked.

The top ticket price for his three-night series at Gund Arena, ending tonight, was $35. Judging by opening night, he was worth every cent. Sure, at 55, he's a bit older. There are flecks of gray in his dark hair. And he hadn't toured in four years. But the sparkle, vitality and deep baritone voice are still there.

How many stars of three decades - his first hit, ''Solitary Man,'' was May 1966 - could fill all 18,322 seats at Gund? (A few seats remain for tonight.) But a better question is how many could do it with their own songs? That could be the key to Diamond's success.

He put his heart into all 26 of them, from the lighter opening one, ''Crunchy Granola Suite,'' to rollicky tunes such as ''Forever in Blue Jeans'' and a real rocker, ''Cherry Cherry.'' There was also a haunting, bluesy ''September Morn''; a delightfully sensual ''Play Me''; and a deeper, introspective one, ''I Am...I Said,'' about an empty time in his life.

Diamond's show was in the round again, giving him the chance to play his acoustic guitar in the center section and gracefully swing around the set's edges, dancing a bit, though not copying any of today's rock star moves.

The crowd - from grandfathers like Roger Clark of Euclid, who knew every song and wrote them down on his stationery, to teenageres like Kerry Jordan, 19, of Kent State University - stood up and welcomed Diamond with an ovation as he came on stage. And they stood up several times later.

Diamond, wearing a colorful beaded top and slim black trousers, tucked in five songs from his new ''Tennessee Moon'' album. The song ''Everybody,'' which he wrote...{with} his son, Jesse, was plain, yet endearing. ''Can Anybody Hear Me?'' gave him the chance to ask that question to various sections of the arena. But ''Marry Me'' was the most effective. Diamond asked if the crowd noticed that married writers write divorce songs and divorced writers write marriage songs. Recently divorced himself, Diamond said, ''I'd like to do a marriage song.''

There was a slight undercurrent of sadness in the show, too. He asked the crowd to sing along. ''It gets lonely up here,'' he said.

However, he had fine company on stage - 11 standout mucicians who have been with him 20 years. He introduced them all and let them play. Their music went on longer than in most introductions, but it gave the show a new texture, gave Diamond a singing break, and served as an intermission.

A member of the entourage, singer Linda Press, sang Barbra Streisand's role in the tender duet ''You Don't Bing Me Flowers.'' Somehow it didn't sound schlocky.

But nothing could top the powerful songs of the past. You could feel a hunger in the crowd for the rich melodies found in ''Song Sung Blue,'' the more complex ''Soolaimon,'' ''Holly Holy'' and ''Sweet Caroline.'' The set ended with ''America'' from the movie ''The Jazz Singer.'' It may have been a little melodramatic, with two flags unfurling, but then I'm always a pushover for the patriotic.

Diamond wound up his encores with the 1969 song ''Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show'' in which he resembled a preacher, singing of ''blacks and whites, rich and poor, God's children all.''

Before the show, he gave a $12,000 check to President Leonard R. Krichko of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland. Diamond is encouraging fans to bring canned goods for the needy to night.

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