Diamond — master showman

Diamond — master showman
Aging boomer audience gets what it came for
Lynn Saxberg, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, December 01, 2008

Approximately 10,000 music fans will be arriving at work today a little more fatigued than usual for a Monday morning. Be patient in your dealings with them.

After all, pop superstar Neil Diamond paid a rare visit to the capital last night, and Scotiabank Place was packed with aging baby boomers on a mission to party. To them, Neil Diamond represents many, many years of good times. To heck with work, who cares about the weather forecast. It was a must-see concert event.

Sure enough and exactly as expected, Diamond delivered a slick, top-notch show, his irresistible hits brought to life with a terrific band that included musicians on horns, keyboards, percussion, guitars and a trio of backing vocalists. There were more than a dozen people on stage behind him, each performing as part of a meticulously orchestrated production that also included moving stage components and tasteful lighting. It was a Vegas-style show pumped up for a stadium-sized crowd.

Although his voice came out sounding rather muddy on the first couple of songs, the technical glitch was quickly adjusted and the show went on without a flaw.

In dark trousers and a maroon shirt, Diamond was in a chatty mood with the high-spirited crowd, at one point demonstrating his Wiki-like knowledge of our city and its population, tourism industry and climate.

“The coldest national capital in the world,” he declared, scratching his head when he heard the crowd’s reaction. “You’re cheering for the cold? Brrr.”

The personable 67-year-old entertainer bombarded the audience with hit after hit, and the crowd responded with delirious applause. Play Me, Cherry Cherry, Kentucky Woman and later on, Sweet Caroline and I’m a Believer were among the songs that kept the party hopping.

Early on, Diamond snuck in the title track to this year’s introspective new album, Home Before Dark. Seated on a stool with an acoustic guitar, it seemed like a bold move for the smooth-talking ladies’ man. The song stuck out like a sore thumb with its quiet intimacy.

Good for Diamond, though, to showcase his latest work, risking the possibility that a dark song like Home Before Dark might put a damper on the party atmosphere. But his delivery was strong and true and sincere, and out of respect, the audience tried to pay attention. Only a few were tempted to visit the lobby.

Still, after all these years, most fans don’t go to Neil Diamond’s concert to hear the new stuff. They probably didn’t even realize there was a new album this year. For 99 per cent of the crowd, the purpose of the evening was to hear the familiar radio hits, and it was a desire that Diamond seemed pleased to fulfil.

The warm-voiced singer threw an amazing amount of energy into his performance, and was gracious and charming with the crowd. He seemed to pay special attention to those seated behind the stage, teasing them to make sure they knew they were part of the festivities. With the audience in seats surrounding the stage, Diamond’s most popular songs, especially Sweet Caroline, inspired 360-degrees of singalong ecstasy.

In other words, it was a superb concert by a master showman — well worth a sluggish day at work.

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