At some point during the massive “Sweet Caroline” sing-a-long deep into Neil Diamond’s concert at HP Pavilion, a rowdy female fan vaulted into my aisle, loudly proclaimed her love to Neil, skulked away from some security guards, and then just all-out bolted for the stage.
She made it as far as the fourth row before a scrum of ushers in royal blue jackets intercepted her in mid-sprint. At that point, Neil was really whipping the place into a tidy frenzy. In fact, by the time he hit his stride on “Cracklin’ Rosie” a couple songs later (“Play it now/Play it now my baby”), it seemed like the audience of dolled-up cougars and enthralled seniors might just erupt into a full-on mosh pit.
This was a relief really. I had been rooting for Neil the second I got in the building, though secretly, I still had my doubts. It wasn’t so much pessimism that Neil Diamond couldn’t still deliver, but a sort of “golden age thinking” that has come to infect my mind before seeing any older musician or band these days; essentially (as Woody Allen asserted via Midnight in Paris) “that a different time period is better than the one we’re living in." When it comes to aging musical acts post-heyday, I just can’t shake the idea that we’re most likely being railroaded towards indulgent nostalgia….at futuristic ticket prices.
Neil took the stage to a packed arena on Tuesday, and thankfully, he not only dismissed my theory, but inverted it: instead of dealing in nostalgia, he made a case for what it means to be a performer. Working through two-dozen songs from a career that has spanned half a century, Diamond took to the setlist and commanded the stage as if he was intent on driving home the difference between a dinosaur and a veteran. Two hours later, there was little doubt he belongs in the latter category.
And Neil’s certainly got a wide range of material to showcase in the process, spanning his many facets: from pop gems (“Cherry, Cherry”) to poignant Paul Simon-style songwriting (“Solitary Man”) to outright Sinatra crooning (“Love on the Rocks”). During the Tom Jones vibe of “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” Diamond flaunted his sense for stage theatrics by singing directly to a lone female in the front row as if she were the only person in the arena, and subsequently driving her into hysterics.
Of course, it’s the songs that don’t really have comparison, the ones that are just quintessentially his own that proved the nights biggest hits – “Forever in Blue Jeans,” “I Am, I Said,” and of course, “Sweet Caroline.”
He ended, appropriately enough, with “I’ve Been This Way Before,” with its lyric, “I’m sure to sing my song again.” Five decades in and still kicking, that remains a safe bet.
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