October 3, 2008 / 5:00 AM / 10 years ago

Diamond's pop showmanship lights up October night

Neil Diamond

U.S. singer Neil Diamond performs at the Glastonbury Festival 2008 in Somerset in south west England June 29, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

By Darryl Morden

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - “This is like the Greek Theater with goiter” Neil Diamond said Wednesday at the Hollywood Bowl, referring to his performance 36 years ago that resulted in his hit album “Hot August Night.”

The first of two dates at the much larger Bowl was more like “warm October night” as the 67-year-old pop music icon delivered a career-spanning two-hour concert that showed why he’s been an enduring entertainer and respected songwriter for more than four decades.

Dressed in black, his trusty longtime 14-member band flanking him on risers, he played the pop star, the crooner, the quipping showbiz pro and thankful artist. While his core audience is in its 50s and 60s, his increased “cool factor” of the past decade or so brought out younger folks as well, ready to hear those songs that have played on the radio their entire lives.

Diamond’s baritone has held up, and despite a recent bout of laryngitis he was in solid voice, with just a few cracks. Ever personable too, he strolled into the pool circle seats near the stage, also acknowledging the faithful at the back of the venue.

The night’s selections ranged from the opening joy of “Holly Holy” to a schmaltzy “Love on the Rocks” and an extended version of his Latin-flavored bopper “Cherry, Cherry” with band members taking solo spotlights.

He also offered up a series of numbers from his fine new Rick Rubin-produced album, “Home Before Dark” — Diamond’s first-ever chart-topper — including the title song’s rumination on mortality and the cautionary “Don’t Go There.”

The heart of the show came in a run of songs that began with the childhood reflection of “Brooklyn Roads” followed by a reined-in reading of the man-lost ballad “I Am ... I Said” and the gliding yet melancholy “Solitary Man.” This led to a bouncy, young-at-heart “Forever in Blue Jeans” and a giant audience sing for “Sweet Caroline,” including an obviously rehearsed reprise — sheer hokum and darn fun, too.

For his 1978 duet with Barbra Streisand, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” backing singer Linda Press took the Babs spot, the arrangement a cross between jazz club and Broadway. The crowd belted out again during a big band-ish rendition of Diamond’s “I’m a Believer,” a No. 1 hit for the Monkees in the ‘60s that returned a few years ago thanks to “Shrek.”

Two semi-confessional numbers from 2005’s “12 Songs” — “Man of God” and “Hell Yeah” — were odd choices to close the main set, derailing the momentum. But Diamond came right back for crowd-pleasing encores kicked off by “Cracklin’ Rosie,” giving way to the immigrant anthem “America” and a rousing closer of “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.”

Diamond may embody a lot of old-fashion showbiz values, but, coupled with his genuine craft over the decades, that has made him deserving of his legendary status. And when it comes to some of his most famous songs, such as “Cherry” or “Caroline,” it’s almost impossible not to sing along.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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