Stepping out of a giant diamond that moments before was emblazoned in red neon with his name, Neil Diamond greets the audience like a convivial Saturday night host. He asks the sold out arena crowd if they’re “ready to party,” before an enthusiastic cheer swings the night into action with The Monkees classic I’m A Believer.
What follows is a 28 song set covering his entire career, from his 70s heyday through to his 2014 release and 32nd studio album Melody Road. From the sing-along delights of Song Sung Blue and Forever In Blue Jeans through to the more reflective The Art Of Love (“5 years to write and 3 minutes to sing”) and Brooklyn Roads (backed by his father’s wind up movie camera footage of his childhood), the performance showcases all that Neil Diamond has to offer.
With a superb band that includes congas, a brass section and two sisters on backing vocals, we are treated to a range of musical styles that spice up the original compositions. Pretty Amazing Grace is given a samba makeover whilst Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon resonates with added electric guitar. The unaccompanied songs are just as powerful. Solitary Man and Play Me have the audience hanging off his every lyric and with gradual recognition comes outbursts of applause. A slick Hello Again is greeted by a shout of “Hello Neil” from someone in the audience, as if he was singing just for them. His ability to enchant an arena size crowd whilst appealing to everyone individually is one of his greatest talents.
A cover of UB40’s Red Red Wine comes with an invite to get up and dance and those still sat down spring up for a rousing Beautiful Noise. The crowd-pleasers reach their peak in the perennial wedding reception favourite of Sweet Caroline (left inevitably for the encore with a reprise). A medley of Cherry Cherry, Soolaiman and Holly Holy from the 1972 Hot August Night live album combines world music and spirituality with a kaleidoscopic background, proving that there is far more to the 74 year old troubadour than just Mr Saturday Night.
Words: Andrew Gutteridge