Friday, July 13, 2012

Concert Review: Neil Diamond at the Xcel Energy Center

Neil Diamond at the Xcel Energy Center, 7/11/12. Photo from Star Tribune.
Neil Diamond, from the cover of "Moods," 1972.
On Wednesday night I saw Neil Diamond in concert at the Xcel Energy Center. It was a terrific show, two non-stop hours of Neil’s greatest hits. This was the first time I’d ever seen Diamond in concert. I’ve heard for a long time about what a great showman he is, and last night I got to see his showmanship for myself. Diamond totally immerses himself in each song, bringing out all the drama of his lyrics. The set-list didn’t include anything more recent than the early 1980’s, but he still sings all these songs with passion. I’m always impressed by artists who are able to bring new enthusiasm to songs they’ve been singing for years, and Neil certainly has that passion, even on songs as old as “Solitary Man” and “Cherry, Cherry,” both from 1966. 

At 71, Diamond still looks slim and trim, dressed all in black-with a slight costume change for the encore. His voice has aged very well, it’s a little deeper than it used to be, but he can still hit all the big notes in his classic songs. It’s very clear that Diamond still loves performing. He walked around the whole stage, giving everyone a good view of him, even for those people sitting behind the stage. Early in the show Diamond said to the audience, “We want to earn your loyalty.” He didn’t need to earn the loyalty of the enthusiastic fans at the Xcel; he had it from the moment he stepped onto the stage. 

Diamond got such a rapturous response from the crowd after singing “Play Me” that the rest of the concert after that almost felt like an encore. Of course, when it got to encore time, the crowd was even more enthusiastic. The sing-along of “Sweet Caroline” went on for a long time, with Neil leading us through the chorus 3 or 4 more times after the song was over. He really seemed to enjoy leading us through the chorus. And how could you not? It has to be a thrill to have written a song that has so thoroughly entered popular culture. I think people could have just applauded him for 5 minutes straight by the end of the show. The way he sang “Holly Holy” was very powerful. It’s probably my least favorite of his big hit songs, but on Wednesday night I was blown away by it. 

I was impressed by Diamond’s guitar playing, as his guitar drove “Cherry Cherry”, giving the song more of a Bo Diddley beat. He still brings a lot of energy to those early songs like “You Got to Me” and “Kentucky Woman.” He did a great version of “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” his usual final encore. “Brother Love” is a great song about the magical connection between audience and performer. And Diamond has a very strong connection to his audience.

My only complaint about the set-list was that “Song Sung Blue” was missing. But Neil did play my wife’s favorite song of his, “Crunchy Granola Suite,” which is also one of my favorites. And he did great versions of “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “I Am…I Said,” two of my favorite songs of his. Which brings me to a slight digression. A lot of people give Neil crap for his lyrics in the chorus of “I Am…I Said,” “’I am,’ I said/To no one there/And no one heard at all/Not even the chair.” They bring up the obvious point that a chair can’t hear. True. I’m pretty sure Neil Diamond knows that chairs do not have ears. But what he’s really saying with that lyric is that no one heard him, and even the inanimate objects in his house don’t bring him any comfort. He’s being poetic, for goodness’ sake! He isn’t expecting a response from the chair. Diamond is trying to express how lost and alone and lonely the narrator of the song is. The narrator isn’t able to connect with any people, and he also can’t take solace in any of his material things. Okay, digression over.

Personally, it took me a while to get into Neil Diamond’s music. I’ve known a lot of his songs for a long time, but I just found him too serious. It wasn’t until I really started seriously listening to his music that I discovered the joy behind it. There is a lot of joy in his music, just listen to “Forever in Blue Jeans,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” or “Crunchy Granola Suite.” Or dig deeper for such silly songs like “Knackelflerg,” and “Porcupine Pie.” Anyone who can write songs like that must have a good sense of humor. I’m really glad that I finally discovered Neil Diamond’s music; it’s brought me a lot of joy. And it was wonderful to go to a concert with 16,000 other people and see the joy that Neil Diamond’s music brings to them. 

Beautiful Noise
Forever in Blue Jeans
Hello Again
Love on the Rocks
Play Me
Red, Red Wine
You Got To Me
Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon
Cherry, Cherry
Kentucky Woman
Solitary Man
Glory Road
 I’m a Believer (slow and fast versions)
You Don’t Bring Me Flowers
Crunchy Granola Suite
Holly Holy
Sweet Caroline
I Am…I Said
Cracklin’ Rosie
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
I’ve Been This Way Before

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