Neil Diamond was saluted at the annual pre-Grammy Awards MusiCares dinner and concert Friday, which concluded with Diamond singing his own best-known anthems and thank yous to his mother and kids who were in the audience.
He told a story about talking guitar lessons because he was in a deep depression over the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn. And after year of guitar, he switched to piano but went back to the six-string, which he declared was his one instrumental love.
In a packed house of solid performances, Jennifer Hudson brought the goods on “Holly Holy.” Her perf was big and gospel-driven; the band’s accompaniment swampy and sparse. It created a tremendous gap that neither side gave in to, allowing the song to breathe deeper than any other in the night.
Second in the distinctive interpretation department was the teaming of jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson and trumpeter Terence Blanchard on “Love on the Rocks.” They turned the often overwrought tune into a neo-bossa ballad, the two soloists keeping the rendition sultry and swinging. Raul Malo accented his astutely tense performance of “Solitary Man” with impressive use of tremolo on his guitar; Coldplay played “I’m a Believer” like subway buskers with acoustic instruments.
Comically, Diamond told a story – on videotape – of his attempt to call Eddie Vedder and request that he come to the event and perform. Deep into the conversation, Diamond learns he is talking to a musician in Seattle named Eddie, but his last name is Rodriguez. His band is not Pearl Jam, it is the Volcanoes. They made the journey to play a tejano version of “Red Red Wine.”
After most of the acts used the house band that included Don Was on bass, Benmont Tench and Jim Keltner on drums, Diamond brought up his band and delivered performances that were mighty similar to ones he gave a few months ago at Staples Center.
The set list:
Jonas Brothers: “Forever in Blue Jeans”
Jennifer Hudson: “Holly Holy”
Kid Rock: “Thank the Lord for the Night Time”
Adele: “Cracklin Rosie”
Urge Overkill: “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”
Coldplay: “I’m a Believer”
Eric Benet: “Heartlight”
Chris Cornell: “Kentucky Woman”
Raul Malo: “Solitary Man”
Wilson and Blanchard: “Love on the Rocks”
Rodriguez & the Volcanoes: “Red Red Wine”
Tim McGraw: “Hello Again”
Foo Fighters: “Delirious Love”
Josh Groban: “Play Me”
Neil Diamond: “Cherry Baby”/ “Love on the Rocks”/”You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” with Faith Hill/”Pretty Amazing Grace”/”America”/”Sweet Caroline”
One gripe: Could these people please learn their music history? The auctioneer at the pre-concert auction was soliciting bids for two plaques awarded to John Lennon, one for “Let it Be” and one for “Hey Jude.” He referred to both as “John’s great songs.” Most people in the building would refer to them as Paul’s.
And emcee Jimmy Kimmel made a crack about “the clowns at Bang Records.” Bang was an acronym for the first names of Bert Burns, Ahmet Ertegun, Neushi Ertegun and Gerry Wexler. (Yes, it’s usually with a J). There are plenty of clowns in the music business but those four men were not among them.