Diamond delivers old but famed goods

Diamond delivers old but famed goods
By Matt Sebastian, Camera Staff Writer
December 20, 2005

DENVER — The story’s been nearly inescapable these past few months: A road-weary and creatively tapped Neil Diamond reluctantly agrees to work with career revivalist Rick Rubin — a hip-hop producer, no less — and cranks out one of the best-reviewed albums of his storied career.

The tale of Diamond’s 12 Songs — a serious and stripped-down record that’s almost as strong as its hype — has been repeated in nearly every American music magazine and major newspaper, not to mention across network and cable television, ad infinitum since the disc’s fall release.

Casual fans couldn’t have been blamed for thinking they were witnessing the artistic rebirth of Diamond, the oft-lampooned king of kitsch and schlocky bombast.

If so, they’d have been wrong.

That was the verdict, anyway, at Diamond’s Monday night Pepsi Center concert, hammered home two-thirds of the way through as the 64-year-old crooner — clad, of course, in a sequined shirt — led a capacity crowd through every thunderous “bah-bah-bah” of “Sweet Caroline.”

No, at Monday’s 90-minute show, you’d never have known Diamond had a new album out, let alone such a striking and well-received effort. Sticking entirely to his prodigious — and beloved — back catalog, he skipped his new collection entirely, almost as if Diamond the singer-songwriter is now divorced entirely from Diamond the showman.

But that’s not to say he didn’t deliver the goods, in his own schmaltzy way. Long dubbed the Jewish Elvis, Diamond performed the kind of choreographed, over-the-top set that’s made him one of the highest-grossing touring acts of the past few decades.

After a slightly subdued start that failed to ignite the crowd (“Crunchy Granola Suite,” “Desiree”), Diamond quickly shifted into high gear, delivering a crowd-thrilling string of classic songs: “Kentucky Woman,” “Cherry, Cherry,” “Love on the Rocks,” “Forever in Blue Jeans,” “I’m a Believer,” “I Am … I Said,” “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “Red, Red Wine” (the last of which included an ill-advised attempt at rapping).

Musically, the only real problem was Diamond’s backing band, a group that was, at times, a bit too quiet, presumably in an attempt to put Diamond’s still-iconic voice front and center. Songs such as “Beautiful Noise” were striking for just how little noise the 14-piece band managed to conjure up.

Still, after 40 years in show business, Diamond clearly has his act down pat, and, on stage, he’s the embodiment of his melodramatic and often overwrought songs. There’s the way he holds his hand over his heart during the subdued guitar solo in “Play Me,” the patriotic chest-thumping of “America,” or the fake tear he wipes away during an unbelievably mawkish “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”

It would all be a bit much if Diamond — and, more importantly, his audience — didn’t believe the sincerity of each of those moves. Yet say what you will about Neil Diamond, as cheesy as he was on stage at the Pepsi Center, it never seemed like he didn’t mean it.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Matt Sebastian at (303) 473-1170 or sebastianm@dailycamera.com.

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