Worcester, Massachusetts - Centrum

Dec 21, 1999

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  1. Boston Globe
    December 23, 1999

    A Sensitive Diamond offers a gem to Worcester crowd

    Steve Morse

    WORCESTER – Many people assume that an artist like Neil Diamond is in a sealed-off bubble, chugging along and selling out venues automatically. But he’s also plugged into current events, as he showed when he spoke up for Worcester’s six deceased firefighters last night before a sold-out 14,000-plus fans.

    “The whole world must know about the tragedy,” Diamond told the crowd. “Our hearts are with you, and our souls are with you. The best thing we can do is make as many beautiful songs as we can for you tonight.

    Diamond, 58, fulfilled that promise with a nearly 2 1/2-hour performance climaxed by a song he dedicated to the firefighters–the Hollies hit, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” It was a warm gesture that earned him his umpteenth standing ovation at a show attended by a number of area firefighters.

    It was the next-to-last show of Diamond’s yearlong tour (the last is a New Year’s Eve gig at Denver’s Pepsi Arena, not far from where Diamond has a log cabin in the mountains of Aspen). It appeared that Diamond, like many entertainers at this time of the year, was a bit fried, but he still pulled himself over some rough spots–perhaps buoyed by the emotion attached to the tragedy–and ultimately gave the crowd the good time, and perhaps the catharsis it needed.

    Diamond again performed in a theater-in-the-round format, an intimate approach that eliminates the need for video screens. He has this format down to a science, unlike some entertainers (Phil Collins and Rod Stewart) who have struggled with it.

    The key for Diamond was his uncanny skill at working the crowd. He had a platform perch at the center (with just a glass of water propped up on a stand), while his nine-piece band (some of whom have been with him for 25 years) was on a lower level that rotated around him. The lighting was spectacular–and the rim of the stage had a string of futuristic, spaceship-style bulbs.

    The set was heavily weighted toward the hits–no surprise there–though some classics like “Kentucky Woman” and “Red Red Wine” were missing this time. Diamond’s somewhat subdued energy detracted from some of the rock tunes (“Solitary Man” didn’t have its customary punch), but he made up for it impressively on ballads such as “Hello Again” (also dedicated to the firefighters, “Unchained Melody,” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” part of a trio of songs from his last record, “The Movie Album” (which, he joked, not many people bought).

    Three songs from his “Jonathan Livingston Seagul” album were a gooey sidetrack, but the Diamond magic–and the crowd’s standing ovations–were rekindled for a stretch drive of “The Christmas Song” followed by upbeat hits “Cracklin’ Rosie?” (with a double reprise) and “Sweet Caroline.” The night didn’t see consistent magic, but enough to keep his icon status intact.

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