Still believing in Diamond - by Linda Winkler on December 8, 2008
Still believing in Diamond
By Nancy Sheehan TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
He is, he said, a man of God. And, indeed, Neil Diamond had an arena nearly full of worshipers at the DCU Center Saturday night. Most of them probably thought he was done too soon even though he performed for an hour and 50 minutes, squeezing the most out of his iconic pop songs and hitting the high notes.
Well, maybe not quite all the high notes. There was a hint of raspiness from time to time, but then he is nearing the end of a long, voice-battering world tour, and many of Diamond's songs are not that easy to sing. We all know this because, when no one is around to tell us how unhip we are, we're there tapping our toes and going "Doan know that ahhh wheel but unteel I kin fahn me, a girl who'll stayAH and woan playAH games behahn me ..."
Anyway, the show started shortly after 8 p.m. following an announcement warning us that the lights would dim abruptly at showtime. This was repeated twice, apparently so that the mainly boomer crowd, not as nimble as they were way back when they first started singing along with Neil, would settle in their seats and not risk mincing down a flight of stairs in the dark.
Our cautionary announcer also stated that "Mr. Diamond will be the solo performer with no intermission." Now, that's no way to get the boomers out of the bathroom lines and into their seats! Then, 14 musicians ambled onto the stage, including three backup singers, a horn section (the same quartet that first performed with Diamond 18 years ago at this very same Worcester venue), three guitars, a bass, two keyboard players, a drummer and a percussionist.
Didn't he just say "solo?"
Well, having a troupe in tow turned out to be a good thing. Diamond, at 67, is still an industrious performer. And on his latest album, "Home Before Dark," he teamed up with record-producing phenom Rick Rubin (co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, and a force behind Metallica's dramatic de-rusting) who pared down Diamond's sound. He seemed to be aiming for the molten emotional core, the direct-hit hook to the heart that has sustained the singer /songwriter in the music business for more than 40 years, sold 125 million records, including 36 top-40 hits, and nabbed him a Grammy and a Golden Globe.
Rubin also deftly stripped away some of the excesses of Diamond's jumpsuited Elvis-emulating days. Our esteemed singer, as svelte as ever, appeared in black jeans, a black sport coat, which he shed after the first few songs, and a gray shirt with a bit of a gloss to it. His flashiest accessory was an acoustic guitar, on which he accompanied himself from time to time.
But mostly, he just wanted the mike in his hand so he could do his impassioned, grimacing, Elvis-like thing, albeit sans the fringy jumpsuit. He put a lot of energy into working the stage and obviously still has shpilkes, a Yiddish word that in this case can be loosely translated to mean "My hot-shot minimalist producer may want me to just sit here on this stool strumming my guitar, but I'm Neil Diamond, dammit. I'm gonna get up and dance, dance, dance. Or at least swing my hips around like I used to back in my heartthrob days."
That was well before his Red Sox days. "Sweet Caroline," the unofficial anthem of Red Sox Nation, got a rousing reception with the whole place heartily chiming in on the chorus. Diamond basks in the wild wave of enthusiasm that song elicits only up here in New England. At a Fenway concert he did the whole song twice by popular demand, but we didn't get that here. He did, however, reprise the chorus so we could all rhythmically shake our hands in the air to the dum-dum-dum part one more time.
Now, we had been wondering how he would handle his famous duet, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." What he did was call on his longtime backup singer, Linda Press. It was OK but she's noooooo Barbra. But then, vocally, he isn't quite the dapper young Diamond who held his own against Streisand's immense vocal fire power, either.
Even so, with all of the amazing songs at his disposal, the charisma, the feeling and energy he puts into every number and the really, really big backup band to cover for him when the raspies strike, the show was very enjoyable. There was a definite sense of being in the presence of greatness. Or maybe former greatness, a beloved-if-toned-down presence that's still got the way to move me, Cherry.
Love on the Rocks
You are the Sun, I am the Moon
Home Before Dark
Don't Go There
Pretty Amazing Grace
Crunchy Granola Suite
Done Too Soon
I Am I Said
Forever in Blue Jeans
You Don't Bring Me Flowers
I'm a Believer (which he wrote for the Monkees)
Man of God
Hell Yeah Play.
Brother Love's Travelin' Salvation Show.