By Dave Tianen
Journal Sentinel pop music critic
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel October 13, 1996

The last 15 years of Neil Diamond's career might be loosely termed the Forever in Sequins era.

There was a time when Neil Diamond was a black garbed greaser churning out folkish rockers like "Cherry, Cherry," "Solitary Man" and "Shilo." That music kicked and it's still compelling 30 years later.

But somehow that guy got lost with the years and Neil Diamond turned into sort of a mutant Wayne Newton, if that's not being redundant.

Well, judging from his sold-out in-the-round appearance Saturday night at the Bradley Center, Diamond is trying with some success to recapture the best part of himself. Earlier this year, Diamond released a country album, of all things, which suggested a return to his singer/songwriter roots. It's probably the best thing he's done in decades.

Diamond spent a good chunk of the middle of Saturday's show on material from "Tennessee Moon." There was "Can Anybody Hear Me," which sounds like vintage "Thank the Lord For the Night Time" stuff, a pretty country ballad called "One Good Love," and a "Bye Bye Love" rewrite called "No Limit."

Any of that stuff is light years ahead of such Hallmark goo as "Hello Again" or "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." Deadlines prevented us from catching the entire show, but the first hour and 40 minutes elapsed without a trace of "September Morn" or "Heartlight." That alone marks a substantial return to form.

Indeed, even Diamond seems to realize that his real gems were in the first six or seven years. The set was crammed with them: "Crunchy Granola Suite," "Kentucky Woman," "Solitary Man," "Soolaimon" and "Cherry, Cherry." The hired help was first rate as well, a large, able band anchored by former Presley drummer Ronnie Tutt.

It would be going too far to suggest that all symptoms of kitsch have been siphoned out of Neil. His body language and wardrobe still radiate Vegas. Like Sammy Davis Jr., he loves to throw kisses to the crowd. His sequined yellow and black shirt might have frightened the aesthetically delicate. And although very trim and fit at 55, his silver black hair remains unmoving and rock solid under all stresses.

Still, Diamond obviously gave the fans -- all 19,000 of them -- what they wanted. Again and again he had middle-aged people up and dancing, which is never an easy feat under the best of circumstances. After four decades in the business, he's actually in an upswing.

The show will be repeated Sunday night.

Back to Concert Review List || Back to the Neil Diamond Home Page