You’ll find an odd mix of people at a Neil Diamond concert. There are lots of the characters you’d expect—baby boomers and grandmothers, for example. But there were plenty of others, people you wouldn’t expect at to find at a 50th anniversary tour for a pop singer—kids, families, millennials, hipsters—you name it and they filled the arena, singing along to every song on the setlist (all of which, by the way, they seemed to recognize within the first few chords). It turns out, Neil Diamond is loved by everyone.
But from a critical standpoint, a Neil Diamond concert is almost impossible to review. Like much of the crowd, Diamond’s songs tell the story of my childhood. Who among us hasn’t shouted out the “So good! So good! So good!” part of “Sweet Caroline” with a friend, or sang “Forever in Blue Jeans” while getting dressed in the morning or serenaded a glass of cabernet with “Red Red Wine”?
OK, those last two might just be me. But the point stands: We are (and I am) connected to this music.
How do you review that objectively? When do you just give into the music you’ve heard your entire life and have a good time?
Well, I’ll tell you when. When Neil Diamond comes on stage in sparkly pants opening his set with “Cherry, Cherry,” that’s when. Go ahead and stand up with the rest of the crowd and dance the night away. Resistance is futile.
“I played this town for the first time in October 1969,” Neil Diamond told his adoring fans. “Are you ready to party again?” but he pronounced it par-tay—and the crowd went wild.
This was 50th anniversary tour, after all, of course he played a whole lot of hits—“Song Sung Blue,” “Love on the Rocks,” “Forever in Blue Jeans,” “I’m a Believer,” “I am.. I said” and more—and that was just during the main set.
Diamond alternated between playing a guitar and singing and just singing—sometimes sitting on a barstool. When standing he paced the stage, giving plenty of attention to the folks in the rafters, motioning with his hands and emoting with each move, and encouraging the crowd to sing along—sometimes even adding in a little 76-year-old sex appeal with some gyrations (surprisingly, it kinda worked).
The crowd was grateful for every song Diamond doled out—the lady a few seats down from me openly wept during a couple songs. And Diamond was equally grateful for the crowd, “You shouldn’t do that,” he told them after a modest standing ovation mid-set, “I’m going to get spoiled and I’m going to have to stay very late tonight.” Of course, the crowd cheered more.
Even Diamond’s exit from the stage before his encore was gracious—he thanked each section before leaving. And then, of course, coming right back onstage for a rocking encore that included “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “America” (with an introduction mentioning his migrant roots—well played, sir) and, of course, “Sweet Caroline,” which I think must have lasted 15 minutes because he kept going back to the chorus.
And I’ll tell you what, you may have sung “Sweet Caroline” a hundred times. You may have sung it at Fenway Park during the 7th inning stretch, or with your kids in the car or even drunkenly at your favorite bar’s karaoke night—but there’s nothing quite like shouting out the “So good! So good! So good!” parts with Neil Diamond himself leading the call and response.
It’s so awesome, in fact, that I caved. I did something I never do at shows—I bought a tee shirt.
I guess you could say I’m a believer.