As little boys, we were asked a countless number of times by adults what we wanted to be when we grew up. The answers were almost always typical of a young boy: president, a fireman, a policeman, a baseball player. Or an astronaut. Years later, the outcome of those statements rarely match the reality. Last night, though, my goal of being an astronaut was realized, as I truly visited another planet when we went to the Centrum in Worcester, MA to see Neil Diamond.
First off, if you’re going to go see Neil Diamond, you have to do your best to go the distance. Via Craigslist, I secured 12th row center on the Centrum floor. Steph agreed to go along, too. She’s probably not as big a fan as I am (more on that later), but she likes enough of his songs to check it out.
Instead of writing up a review of the show, I thought it might make some sense, based on the spectacle we witnessed last night, to simply list the pro’s and con’s of seeing Neil Diamond live. Here goes…..
- “Love On The Rocks.” I even felt a little embarrassed that roughly 1/20th of my ticket price was to see this song performed.
- The melodrama, the apex of which was “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” (another one of Diamond’s songs for the “I hate” files). Diamond starts out extreme stage left, while the woman singer starts out extreme stage right. The only lights are the silver spotlights on the two. They sing, they stare longingly, they motion with their hands…..and with each verse, they come closer, until the very end of the song…..when they make out! Right there on stage! No lie! My goodness.
- “Johnathan Livingston Seagull,” another atrocious offering, complete with video footage of seagulls soaring over beautiful cliffs and beachfronts. Gag.
- Only played two new songs of his really great new album.
- Perhaps the most baffling song of the night was “Red Red Wine.” I’ve never liked this song, regardless of who’s singing it, but he brought it to new depths of utter despair for me. Halfway through it turned into the reggae version, which even slightly veered into the most bizarre turn of the evening – Neil Diamond half-rapping, half-singing the lyrics. Completely puzzling.
- No “September Morn” or “Solitary Man.”
- “Soolaimon” wasn’t terrible, but for the entire band to don African garb for it? Bad taste.
- Seeing an old guy (that would be Diamond) with the slightest of pot belly in an all black suit, screaming things like “Yeah!” and “Let’s go!” really loudly for two hours.
So, you would think with such an extensive list of terrible things abot this show thay maybe I didn’t enjoy it. Well, think again! For each horrific, deer-in-the-headlights moment for me, there were two great things. So….the pros:
- “She Got To Me” positively ruled. I was shocked and psyched that he even played this, as it’s not really a big hit of his and it stands out because it’s one of his ’60s rock songs.
- The roar for “Sweet Caroline” was deafening and he delivered a great live version of it, despite the fact that it’s dreadfully overplayed in these parts because of the whole Red Sox thing.
- “Holly Holy,” “Cherry Cherry” and “Shiloh” all made the set list, three of my favorites by Neil – and all were superbly done.
- He has a terrific 14-piece band, most of whom have been playing together for 30 years, according to Diamond. It’s obvious that they know each other’s tendencies inside and out. They were spit-polished, great showmen and extremely tight. Not a mistake within 30 miles of the place.
- Man, at 60-something, his voice is still as strong and crisp as those amazing early records from the 1960s.
- Two very good acoustic/solo songs from his mid-1960s days as a Greenwich Village troubadour.
- Even though there were only two songs from the new album, both were outstanding, the solo/acoustic “I’m On To You” and “We.”
- The audience singing along word for word on nearly every song, particularly “Play Me” and “I Am….I Said,” the latter of which was one of best performances of the night.
- Both “Thank The Lord For The Nighttime” and “Kentucky Woman” had FIRE to them when performed live. Really impressive.
There’s so much more to this show, but that’s all I can think of right now. It was as bombastic and melodramatic as you would imagine it to be. I truly felt like I was on another planet. Steph nailed it with a great comment, too: “I felt like I was on a cruise.”
That said, I’m happy I can cross him off my list of artists I can’t believe I haven’t seen yet. It was totally worth it. Another great aspect was just looking around at the crowd – the older folks were obviously beyond psyched – I’ve never seen so many people my parents age dancing maniacally and shouting out lyrics – that was really neat. I was also shocked (shocked!!) at how many people were there who were our age and younger. They all were beside themselves. It was surreal. But when you can pack an arena with that kind of mix, you’ve done something right with your music career.
A few words on the new album, called 12 Songs. I never in my life envisioned that Neil Diamond would put out a new album of songs that interested me. Lo and behold, he did it. I would imagine the last must-have album he put out was sometime in the mid-1970s, so imagine my shock. It’s a complete 180-degree turn for him. At this point, he’s known mostly for over-the-top schmaltz. This album is 12 songs – nearly all of which are dark, acoustic offerings, produced by Rick Rubin, pioneer and producer of everything from the late-80s Beastie Boys work to Run-DMC to Johnny Cash, among many others. They worked together on this record for nearly two years, stipping down (and out) all the excessive instrumentation Diamond has previously been prone to and they came up with what I’m considering a top 10 album of 2005. It’s that good. I can’t even believe I’m saying it, either….