The Kansas City Star, Tuesday, July 9, 1996
Flawless Diamond: Veteran music man sparkles in Kemper show
by Robert Eisele
Say what you will about Neil Diamond the composer, whose songs tend toward the formulaic and predictable. Neil Diamond the performer is a class act all the way, as those in a packed Kemper Arena Sunday night can attest. The venerable singer/songwriter held court for more than two hours from a revolving stage at the center of the arena, transfixing the crowd with his distinctive performance style.
From the opening chords of "Crunchy Granola Suite," Diamond's ode to Madison Avenue commercialism, the crowd was in his corner, cheering the familiar tunes spanning more than three decades of pop music history. Backed by a percussion-heavy, nine-piece band, the singer made his way through more than two dozen songs. Although his material runs the stylistic gamut, Diamond really knows his way around a ballad. His "September Morn" and "Play Me" were high points of the set, as was a beautifully executed duet with background vocalist Linda Press on the evocative "You Don't Bring Me Flowers."
Dressed in a sparkling salmon shirt and crisply tailored black slacks, Diamond worked the crowd from atop the elevated circular platform, occasionally venturing forth to the turntable ring surrounding the musicians at his feet. Of the evening's up-tempo selections, "Kentucky Woman," "Cherry Cherry" and "Beautiful Noise" were standouts. The singer's recently released "Tennessee Moon" country album was represented by "Can Anybody Hear Me" and the forgettable "One Good Love," which suffered from the absence of duet partner Waylon Jennings.
"Songwriters are a strange breed," Diamond told the crowd. "When they're married they write divorce songs, and when they're divorced they write married songs. I'd like to do a married song for you now," obliquely referring to the recent breakup of his longtime marriage as he launched into "Marry Me."
Even after more than two hours in the spotlight, Diamond summoned the energy for an electrifying encore of "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," a rousing story-song that rocked the crowd with its spirited evocation of revival tent fervor. The singer demonstrated his consummate showmanship in this flashy set piece, which remains as powerful today as it was on the celebrated 1972 "Hot August Night" record.