- 11 Oct 17
Pat Carty has a good time with the mighty Neil Diamond at the 3Arena
Sometimes you get lucky. The usher led me to my seat, which turned out to be in the very front row. Wouldn’t happen with The Rolling Stones of course, but I’m not complaining. The upshot of this is that a sharp looking gent, who “works for Mr. Diamond”, personally greets me. He lays down the law with regard to flash photography and approaching the stage before noticing my pen and notebook. “Oh”, he says through gritted teeth, “are you a writer?” Despite the multitude that would argue otherwise, I nod that I am. “Well,” he’s now practically grinding his perfect Californian molars to dust, “we’re happy to have you.”
With no support and, we’re warned, no intermission, Neil Diamond takes his place in front of the band to an absolutely thunderous reception. I briefly scoped out the crowd in the bar before hand, and tonight is a cross between a massive Christmas do, and the loudest hen party of all time. And I don’t mention this in any kind of snide way, these people are here for a good time, and the raucous response to every move and syllable would put the cool kids at The Arse Giraffes’ E.P. launch in Whelan’s to shame. This is what music is supposed to do to you; this is how you should react to it.
The video backdrop opens, of course, with a diamond that would put the Star of Africa to shame and mixes images of the man himself with cultural and political figures from the last fifty years before he kicks off proper with ‘In My Lifetime’, ‘Cherry, Cherry’, and ‘You Got Me’, sporting a fetching spangly trouser and jacket combo, although the jacket soon hits the floor, because this man means business. ‘Solitary Man’ is the first opportunity to really appreciate what great shape his voice is in. As Hot Press is pretty much sitting on the stage, we can actually hear his voice unamplified as he glides over to us. For a man of his mature years, it really is, as the actress said to the bishop, a magnificent instrument.
The crowd pretty much take over for ‘Love On The Rocks’ and ‘September Morn’, and, after an introduction explaining that singing is really about letting the good vibes in the room into your voice, Diamond seems visibly moved during the response to ‘Play Me’. Not for the last time, it strikes me that a lot of the man’s songs are about music itself, where he uses words like “music”, “song”, and, of course “tune”, or “toon” as he pronounces it, to tell his stories. In his own way, he’s as much a keeper of the flame as Springsteen ever was.
By this point, everyone’s officially having a ball, and they can probably hear the chorus of ‘Song Sung Blue’ over in Wales, although a lot of the clapping is now in a challenging 12/8 time signature, one woman behind me giving it the full Keith Moon on the back of the chair in front of her, and that’s just during the ballads.
Snobby rock fans might scoff, but Diamond’s ’76 album, Beautiful Noise, a serious change of style for the man at the time, and a constant fixture in my Uncle Mick Coghlan’s car during the seventies, was produced by no less a member of the “proper rock” cognoscenti than The Band’s Robbie Robertson. Diamond presents from it a mini-suite – yet another song about music in the pounding title track, ‘If You Know What I Mean’, the West Side Story-isms of ‘Jungletime’, and ‘Dry Your Eyes’. Diamond performed this last song at The Band’s farewell celebration, The Last Waltz, gifting us forever with the fabulous story of Neil and Bob. Diamond comes off stage after his performance and scoffs at Dylan to “Follow that!” “What do you want me to do?” Dylan replies, “go on stage and fall asleep?”. Diamond gives the lie to that tale tonight though, with a moving performance of a fine song.
Credit is graciously given to guitarist and co-writer, Richard Bennett, before ‘Forever In Blue Jeans’ almost levels the place. ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ follows, making light of the fact that it’s now a duet with Larry on the saxophone rather than Barbara Streisand, and ‘Red Red Wine’ is the kind of reggae that’s probably playing right now in Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Jimmy Buffet restaurants. Diamond kneels down, and then lays down, attempting to cajole an audience member on to the stage, away from her husband, but he thinks better of it, and quickly rescinds the invite, much to the chagrin of every female in the building. Such is the squealing brought on by ‘I’m A Believer’ and ‘Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon’, that one might suspect something had been put in the water, if anyone had actually been drinking water in the first place.
‘Brooklyn Roads’, played in front of a series of home movies, sees Diamond take a chair for a song that obviously means a lot to him. It’s a brilliantly descriptive lyric documenting a “life filled to the brim”, which may be even more precious for a man closer to the end than the beginning. It’s genuinely moving.
A trio of songs from the not-great sound track to Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a misstep, as far as I’m concerned. Rick Wakeman, on his worst day, would surely have thought twice about putting a record together documenting a seagull’s “life journey”, but the crowd laps this up too. The band introductions that follow are far, far too long, and, while it’s just mean to begrudge them their moment in the spotlight, the band-only ‘Jazz Time’ is a bit shite. Mind you, it’s always nice to see a gang with matching outfits, although the percussionist, who is the spitting image of Baron Samedi from Live and Let Die, obviously didn’t get the memo, and the bass player looks like he’s just turned up to move your furniture.
The main part of the show finishes with four songs from the Hot August Night live album, released back in 1972 – ‘Crunchy Granola Suite’, ‘Done Too Soon’, and ‘Holly Holy’ are all winners, but his voice, after nearly two hours work, on ‘I Am … I Said’ is something else again, warm like a welcome dram on a cold night.
He returns quickly for the encore, in a very fetching green leather jacket - he didn’t throw this one to the floor, which was a pity, as I would have grabbed it and lit out for the exits. As expected, he’s happy to haul out ‘Sweet Caroline’, reprising the chorus one more time after the song has ended like the old pro he is, and ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with giving the people what they want. Hot Press took this opportunity to slip out to use the facilities, which turned out to be a huge mistake, as he closed with the glorious ‘America’, a song he hadn’t been playing much on this tour. I regretfully only caught the last minute of it, but no matter. I had never seen Neil Diamond before, chances are I’ll never see him again, but he’s left an indelible impression. Far from the Las Vegas, supper club schmaltz I was half expecting, tonight was all about the music, of which Diamond is obviously, and justifiably, proud. A triumph.