By Jerry Johnston
The Desert News

Singer James Brown is called "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business." But Neil Diamond's performance in the Delta Center Friday was enough to let fans know Diamond considers himself a contender. As in past years, the singer went the distance again: two hours without an intermission without a costume change. Almost without a drink of water.

In music circles, Diamond will always be thought of as the guy with the husky voice, memorable melodies and bad rhymes ("Songs she sang to me, songs she brang to me..")

And, truth to tell, his stage presence is packaged stuff. He points to hundreds of people in the crowd as he walks, throws kisses, swivels his hips and thrusts and index finger into the air--all canned moves that Wayne Newton patented back in 1978 and has marketed ever since. Yet once you get past the cliche gestures to the heart and soul of the matter, it's easy to see why Diamond sells out show after show. He doesn't skimp. You get your money's worth.

This time through town he brought a laser show, a nine-piece knock-out band, a revolving stage, a computer full of lights and sounds and about 22 of his best songs.

He didn't do medleys. All the tunes that served as background to baby boomer love were out there in full: "Solitary Man," "Hello Again," "Song Sung Blue," "Forever in Blue Jeans," "I Am," "Kentucky Woman." If you had a Diamond favorite, you got to hear all the verses.

The singer was at his best when he stood in the center spot, strumming his low-slung guitar and crooning ballads in his whiskey baritone. He was at his worst when he strutted like Mick Jagger or tried to showcase songs written by his friends and family. They suffered by comparison.

Dressed in a striped shirt, black slacks and comfortable shes, the singer may have looked like a basketball referee from Hollywood, but he proved to be quite an athlete. After 90 minutes, just when the audience began expecting the show to wind-down, the singer took it to another level, stringing together "Beautiful Noise," "Coming to America" (complete with four American flags), "You don't Send Me Flowers," "Sweet Caroline," "Cracklin' Rosie" and other hard-driving hits.

He finished the show with "Brother Love," his voice booming out the cant of camp preacher with the same freshness he broght to the stage at the first of the show. That he brought to the stage 40 years ago. Yet, when the lasers went down and houselights came up, there was this impression, an impression that is was all for show, that inside the practiced charisma, ambition and prize-fight conditioning, Neil Diamond would rather be off by himself, would rather be the solitary man writing songs to no one there, out where no one hears at all, not even the chair.

I was unable to find one in the tribune....All I've got to say is Neil is incredible and keeps getting better, and what I wouldn't give to be Linda during one song....Keep it up Neil Salt Lake loves you....... Teddy

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