NOT A ROUGH NIGHT FOR NEIL DIAMOND
Comedian Robert Klein once had a routine in which he talked about how strange it was to work as the opening act for Neil Diamond. Performing for such huge crowds was one thing, but what Klein said always boggled his mind was watching the owner of the building come out at the end of Diamond's performance, thank the singer profusely and give him the deed to the building.
Whether or not arena owners gave away their buildings simply for the honor of having Diamond play in them (we think Klein was exaggerating just a bit), the Brooklyn born singer-songwriter has been an enormous money-maker. His worldwide record sales are in the neighborhood of 100 million copies, and as recently as 1992 he was the No. 2 concert draw behind U2.
Diamond's enduring popularity was in evidence again Monday as he performed the first of two nights in the Rose Garden arena, his first Portland appearances in about a decade. That some tickets still are available for Tuesday's show is unusual; Moday's sellout is almost a defining characteristic of a Diamond show.
Adulation also is a regular feature, and the Rose Garden throng provided it. Diamond's audience is perhaps even more stolidly middle-American (middle aged and middle class) than the country crowd that packed this same spot a few days ago for Garth Brooks.
Diamond drew a surprising share of young fans as well, perhaps attracted by his legacy of catchy '60s hits or energetic '70s performances. Or perhaps they came out of curiosity, having learned of Diamond through Urge Overkill's cover of "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" that was used in the film "Pulp Fiction."
And Diamond gave them all something to feel good about - crafty pop music full of broad gestures, earnest melodrama and mature, if obvious, sentiment.
The show opened with a dandy lighting trick - laser projections against a circular, diaphanous screen hanging above the center of the in-the-round stage. From there Diamond, looking trim if a bit gray, launched into the uptempo "Crunchy Granola Suite." From there he tended to alternate between soapy ballads and hand-clapping, sing-along fare.
Each approach had its hits and misses. For instance, the bouyant "Cherry, Cherry," his first solo hit 30 years ago, had as much charm and nearly as much verve as ever. But "Beautiful Noise" didn't quite count as either, and "Forever in Blue Jeans" sounded like it did when it was first released - a sure sign of creative decline.
On the sifter side, "September Morning" was cloying in the extreme, but Diamond showed the tenderness that Urge Overkill missed in "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon." Diamond's stance somewhere between the trappings of the rock era and the sensibilities of traditional popular song at times make him seem hokey. But it's the kind of crowd-pleasing entertainment that gets folks to give you the deed.
By Marty Hughley of The Oregonian staff