by Chuck Klosterman
When Neil Diamond stepped in front of 20,000 plus fans in the Fargodome Tuesday night, the first thing that grabbed the room's attention was his shirt. It was the perfect metaphor for his music: A working man's garment adorned with Las Vegas flash. For the next two hours, Diamond crooned blue collar ballads and back alley anthema with the kind of panache you'd expect from the world's greatest lounge singer.
''He just simply sings from the heart. He's so spiritual,'' said diamond superfan Pat Ehlis before the show. ''He's just the most special person. Neil is part of our lives.''
Ehlis and her husband Don managed to get tickets for Tuesday's concert through a contest sponsored by the Bismarck Tribune. They epitomize the fanatical following Dimaond has fostered worldwide; Ehlis admitted they've purchased every Diamond release on vinyl, 8-track, cassette and compact disc....While most fans at the show weren't as intense as the Ehlis duo, the admiration from the massive crowd was obvious. Few Fargodome events have drawn an audience this appreciative of an artist.
Unlike typical rock shows, the crowd's gender mix was fairly equal (there appeared to be an especially high number of couples in the crowd). It crossed a wide age demographic; Along with the predictable saturation of middle-aged fans, there was a solid collection of twentysomethings and a surprisingly high number of children with their parents. Moreover, it was an incredibly polite audience - when the P. A. announcer reminded everyone that the Fargodome was a smoke-free facility, it drew substantial applause!
Diamond and his vintage sideburns hit the stage about 8:15 PM, after a trippy (albiet brief) laser show. The stage was a nearly perfect circle that rotated mechanically. His 9-piece band was tucked inside the cylinder.
''I'm told that it's been 28 years since I've performed in Fargo,'' the 55-year-old vocalist remarked after his first song. ''That only means one thing to me - we have a lot of music to catch up on.'' Diamond then broke into ''Hello Again'' and strapped on a guitar for ''Solitary Man.'' He followed with ''Girl You'll be a Woman Soon,'' a track recently repopularized by Urge Overkill on the ''Pulp Fiction'' Soundtrack. The contemporary connection seemed to push younger members of the audience into gear; whooping became the norm.
However, ''Cherry, Cherry'' proved to be the true catalyst. The Dome was suddenly overcome with dance fever. Diamond could coax the audience into a mild frenzy at any given moment; a casual hand gesture during ''Kentuky Woman'' instantly pulled thousands of people out of their seats.
As expected, Diamond's more recent material was not as universally adored as his classics. However, he did present a pleasant rendition of ''Everybody,'' a song he wrote with his son, Jesse. It was punctuated by a stirring [fiddle] solo reminiscent of the Doobie Brothers' ''Black Water''.
For many fans, the evening's high point was a rollicking version of ''Forever in Blue Jeans,'' Diamond sang it one, jokingly scolded a man in the front row for not standing up, and then - to the delight of the masses - played an abridged version of the song again.
After making the obligatory introductions of his musical ensemble (which included a frisky bongo solo), he finished with a collection of this best known material - ''You Don't Bring Me Flowers'' (with Linda Press standing in for Barbara Streisand), ''America,'' ''Sweet Caroline'' and a handful of others.
Tuesday night's show left little doubt to why Diamond managed to sell more tickets than previous high-profile Fargodome visitors such as Billy Joel, Aerosmith, Guns 'N' Roses and Rod Stewart. Regardless of age or material, there is no substitute for raw showmanship.
The Fargo Forum
By Ross Raihala
Neil Diamond's songs are modern-day standards, from "Sweet Caroline" to "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." And he's sold some 110 million records. Still, the 55-year-old crooner may seem a bit out of place on the youth-driven World Wide Web. But maybe not.
Diamond's fans are legendary in their devotion; Rolling Stone magazine referred to them as the "Neil mafia." Even if kids don't know Diamond wrote it, they've probably hummed along to the Urge Overkill version of "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon," from the million-selling "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack.
After years of taking a beating from critics, Neil Diamond has arrived at a crossroads, with his kitschiness finally earning him a twisted form of respect. Check out the recent Entertainment Weekly piece "Cracked Neil View" in which writer David Browne wittily argues that Diamond is a metaphor for pop culture. "Neil Diamond as Metaphor for Mankind's Existential Crisis in an Illogical Universe" sounds like custom-made Web Fodder. In fact, Neil Diamond has established a substantial Web presence.
Diamond himself touts his official site (http://www.diamondville.com) as "a magical musical place which travels from town to town spreading the message of love." The site also peddles the singer's pricey "official" merchandise. The last time it was updated was way back in May, an eternity in Web time. Diamond's record company features a 30-second performance clip and a few press releases at http://www.music.sony.com A sample of the up-to-date news you can glean from the site: "One of the most delightful Christmas presents of 1992 was Neil Diamond's enormously successful 'The Christmas Album.'"
As most Web crawlers have learned, the best stuff isn't found from the official sources. It comes from the most rabid fans.
For Instance, the "Neil Diamond Home Page" (http://users.aol.com/klerxt/diamondhome.html) is an exhaustive site run by Joe Imhof, who rightfully boasts "the Web's largest souce of Neil Diamond information."
Imhof has it all: a discography, lyrics, interview, up-to-the-minute news, a photo gallery, word find and even a trivia quiz.
The site also features gushing full-length missives examining the most minor Diamond minutiae. "I hoped to catch a glimpse of the Star," writes one fan, describing his brush with the singer in 1972. "Finally his limousine pulled up, and out he stepped, smoking a cigar and wearing yellow sunglasses."
Imhof's site stands out as a painstakingly compiled example of the Web at its best. And most Obsessive.