Neil Diamond: Another Hot August Night
The soft-rock troubadour returns to L.A.’s Greek Theatre
By Melinda Newman
Special to MSN Music
Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre holds a special spot in Neil Diamond's heart. It was the site of the superstar’s landmark double live album, "Hot August Night," recorded during a 10-night stint at the tree-lined amphitheater in 1972.
On Aug. 11, Diamond returned to the Greek for the first time since 1986 for the first of five sold-out shows. The concerts coincide with Universal Music’s 40th anniversary release of the original set, as well as with Diamond receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Aug.10.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has fallen in and out of favor over the decades with hipster critics, who alternately reject and then embrace his unironic, often self-reflective, occasionally schlocky tunes. Working with Rick Rubin for 2005’s “12 Songs” and 2008’s “Home Before Dark” provided Diamond a nice resurgence and an appreciation for his sometimes overlooked strength as a first-class troubadour.
While tastemakers have vacillated in their levels of respect for Diamond, his popularity — make that undying adoration — among his fans has never waned. Selling out arenas around the globe consistently for five decades doesn’t happen by accident. His show at the Greek was a textbook case in how to put on a concert that delights but never panders to the fans.
His two-hour set was chock-full of hits, but unlike so many other artists who are lucky enough to have more smashes than will fit into an evening’s performance, Diamond sang each song in its entirety and with such determined intensity that his performance never felt rote. He’s not an overly flashy performer — he’s traded in his garishly glittery shirts years ago for a little shoulder sparkles. Instead, he relies on the same series of welcoming gestures as he has for decades, a smooth, opened-arm sweep that feels as comforting and unhurried as an gentle ocean wave or the two-handed version that conveys an embracing inclusiveness but never goes so far as to appear rock-star messianic.
None of this would impress if Diamond didn’t come to the stage with an admirably still strong set of pipes. His vocals, which have grown even deeper with time, hovered high in the sound mix on Saturday night, leaving him nowhere to hide if he flubbed a note, but he never did. His range has always been fairly limited, but his vocal strength was nothing short of remarkable, especially given that at times he was singing over his 14-piece band, including horns, and a large string section.
The latter was imported especially for the Greek dates, as a nod to the orchestra featured during the 1972 run. The players added a graceful flourish on such songs as “Hello” and “Play Me.” Otherwise, the Greek Theatre setlist was the same as it has been at other stops on this tour, which seemed, quite frankly, like a missed opportunity to celebrate the special occasion.
In addition to his robust vocals, the 71-year-old Diamond also pulls off another seemingly impossible feat: The bulk of the material covers his peak radio years, 1966-1981, and yet the show rarely felt steeped in nostalgia. Most of the songs felt fresh, buoyed by the low-key passion that he seemed to imbue even the cheesiest of songs with, such as “Forever in Blue Jeans.” To be fair, the audience sang and applauded for the song as if it were as classic as “Solitary Man,” (which is now delivered in a more staccato version than the original).
The pinnacle came, as it does with every show, with “Sweet Caroline.” Preceded by a heavy, muscular, showstopping “Holly Holy” that had the crowd on its feet, “Sweet Caroline” has developed, over the last several years, into a ritualistic sing-along, with the crowd screaming “so good, so good, so good,” immediately after Diamond utters the words. And this entertainer knows what his fans want: There were three reprises of the song, each one louder than the one before it. Similarly, he delivered “I’m a Believer” first as a pleasing, dreamy ballad before going into the uptempo version made famous by the Monkees.
There was also room for album cuts, such as “Crunchy Granola Suite” and “Glory Road.” Before the latter, he said, “Every one of us has had dreams in our life. I used to dream about playing music and dream about writing music. I still do ...” All these years later, a gracious, appreciative Diamond convincingly sold that statement like a newcomer. After all this time, it would seem he’s still a believer too.
Melinda Newman is the former West Coast bureau chief for Billboard magazine. She has covered music and entertainment for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, MSN, AOL Music, Hitfix.com, Variety, People Country and other outlets. Recent interviews include Taylor Swift, Susan Sarandon, Pink, Jeff Bridges, Brad Paisley, Foo Fighters, Katy Perry and Carly Simon.
Neil should have hung it up a long time ago
He's the poster child for "Has Been"
his voice just doesn't have it aymore
a great talent that sadly got old.