It was 50 years ago today, Neil Diamond taught the band to play the kind of spectacle pop show that would define the genre for decades. And along the way turn him into a superstar, not least in Australia where it seemed the only people who didn’t own the resulting live album were liars and the unborn.
On August 24, 1972, at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, the boy from Brooklyn whose solo career had been almost-but-not-quite catching fire – though his songwriting had already made his name via the likes of The Monkees and a certain Elvis Presley – performed a long set that later that year became the album Hot August Night. It did well.
Wind Back Wednesday’s foot soldiers weren’t there: at that point, getting the bus to Bankstown seemed a big enough adventure; LA meant Marcia Brady, so, you know, fantasy. But here’s a review of a 2011 show in Sydney that tapped into the same vein for newcomers and old timers and anyone who loved a bit of glitter in their granola.
Acer Arena, March 26, 2011
NEIL DIAMOND IN CONCERT? Admit it, you’re wondering when it came – don't worry I was too – and the answer is 70 minutes into the show.
That’s when he called out ‘good lawd” as the Crunchy Granola Suite riff returned. That's when an already overexcited audience – women punching the air, men doing variations of the Dad Dance, hyperventilating middle-aged “youngsters” exhorting elderly parents sitting alongside them to get up and throw their hips out – kicked up a gear.
And yeah, it was fun. How could it not be, even if it's been happening like this since 1972 and the Greek Theatre.
Neil Diamond in concert? You get what you paid for in nearly two hours: big pop songs (Cracklin Rosie in the encore, the family singalong of Sweet Caroline done one and a half times, I'm A Believer done acoustic and slow, then rocky and fast); bigger a-tad-too-dramatic songs (I Am ... I Said to close the night, the treacly Love On The Rocks and the truly awful and irredeemable You Don't Bring Me Flowers); and biggest of all, cheese.
Veritable mountains of the stuff. From audience cheering competitions to earnest homilies; from band members in shirts last seen in a 1980s wedding band to some occasional mawkish delivery.
But that’s ok. Cheese, or if you prefer, old school showmanship, is what Diamond does and no one here came unprepared.
And unlike Al Green for example, Diamond earns the right to cheese it up. Works bloody hard for it. His voice is still strong and never shirks it by leaving it to the backing singers and his unflagging energy belies his age.
Plus you get the genius of Solitary Man and the undeniable fact that Cherry Cherry’s multi-part, multi-climactic, escalating folk soul excitement gave a certain B. Springsteen an idea or two.
Yeah, it would have been good to have had a mini bracket of solo acoustic songs from his two Rick Rubin-produced albums, but that was never going to happen for this audience, in this venue.
Sure, it would have been preferable to have Kentucky Woman instead of a rather stiff cover of Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine. And, dear God, did I mention You Don't Bring Me Flowers?
But Neil Diamond in concert? That’s still some kind of show.