Diamond remains a cut above

Diamond remains a cut above
Despite his sequined silliness, showman can still rock a house

By Jay Dedrick, Rocky Mountain News
December 20, 2005

To some, Neil Diamond’s a singing, songwriting legend, a Brill Building craftsman whose work has been unavoidable for 40 years. To others, he’s a squinting, sequined caricature, a rose-scattering troubadour whose familiar stage shtick makes him the target of spoofing from the likes of Will Ferrell.
At 64, the veteran showman seems comfortable with both sides. His lauded 12 Songs album has given him hipster buzz for the first time in years, boosting the “serious artist” side of his persona. And as his Monday night concert at the Pepsi Center showed, he’s still an unabashed entertainer.

His manic rendition of Red, Red Wine served as a microcosm for the evening. He began it slow and shuffling, a mournful country lament suggesting the vino might not be the best solution to life’s problems. Before you could say UB40, he shifted the song into a reggae party, dancing in a conga line with his backup singers and rapping.

Yes, Neil Diamond rapped.

It was good for a laugh, which the self-deprecating star was happy to supply occasionally. “It’s only a song!” he shouted at women in the crowd, chiding them for swooning a bit too aggressively as he crooned Play Me.

Wisely, though, he chose to spend most of the evening playing it straight, balancing the glitzier, Vegas-style side of his catalog with the grittier, soul-tinged pop of his youth.

The best of the latter came when Diamond strapped on an acoustic guitar and concentrated on singing, revealing a voice that still resonates with youthful vigor. You Got to Me provided a chugging groove, Kentucky Woman proved as smooth as bourbon, and Cherry, Cherry had the nearly full house clapping along from the start. Not many performers can make a sports arena feel like an intimate club.

He didn’t mind risking a few obscurities, though. His deep-reaching take on Glory Road made you wonder why it never became one of his standards. And the sweet, understated Remember Me could have been a huge ’70s hit – if his albums weren’t already stacked with singles.

Ultimately, though, Diamond relied on the familiar hits. Love On the Rocks, Forever in Blue Jeans and You Don’t Bring Me Flowers remain showstoppers. His stage routine – strolling in black rhinestone-studded shirt and slacks, blowing kisses to the crowd, pointing skyward like a disco-days lounge lizard – is goofy, but somehow sincere.

A couple of things that could have made him cooler on Monday night: a song or two from the new album (he skipped it entirely) and a longer set list. At an hour and 45 minutes, the show fell short of other stops on his tour and left the otherwise appreciative crowd in disbelief as the house lights came up.

Neil Diamond

• Grade: A-

• When and where: Monday night, Pepsi Center

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