Every Neil Diamond show is a salute to a songwriting legend who has remained popular, if not relevant, since the 1960s.
Sunday night about 10,000 enthusiasts showed up at the Sprint Center, where for two hours Diamond paid tribute to a hall-of-fame career that has spanned five decades. He opened with one of his more beloved hits, “I’m a Believer,” a song made popular by the Monkees. He funked it up a bit, employing his four-piece horn section, part of a 13-piece ensemble that also included two backup vocalists and seven-piece band.
He followed that with the lusciously maudlin “Love on the Rocks.” As he would on several other songs, Diamond gave it some dramatic gusto, motioning and gesticulating in all the right places to emphasize his pain and sorrow.
Behind him and the band, a large diamond-shaped video screen broadcast graphics, images and footage of Diamond from various stages in his career. It was used most effectively during “Brooklyn Roads,” an homage to his family and his place of birth. Clips from family movies featuring Diamond, his parents and his brother were shown, bringing home the song’s sense of longing and nostalgia.
Diamond turned 74 in January, and his wife was in the arena Sunday, but that didn’t stop him from fulfilling a request for a kiss on the lips from a woman in the front row, stooping low, then lying on his stomach to do it. He was singing “Play Me” at the time.
He didn’t turn the show into a greatest-hits revue. Instead, he pulled songs from across his catalog, some of them lesser-knowns like “Pretty Amazing Grace” and “The Art of Love,” a track from his most recent album. But before a crowd whose enthusiasm didn’t wane for the entire two hours, even those songs elicited hearty ovations.
The hits, however, evoked the loudest sing-alongs, songs like “Hello Again,” “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” “Red Red Wine” (the video image for that was of a glass of bubbly, oddly) and “Cherry, Cherry,” most performed the way they were recorded. Diamond’s voice has remained strong and firm, and he didn’t have to compromise or adjust for any loss of range.
He brought the show to an explosive close. He ended with dramatic performances of “Holly Holy,” then “I Am ... I Said.” Then he and his orchestra returned for a four-song encore that included “Sweet Caroline,” a song whose legend has nearly outgrown Diamond’s. He directed the crowd through the ritual — the mimicked horns and the “so good, so good, so good” — indulging everyone by repeating the chorus several extra times. Not only that, after finishing the song and basking in the riotous ovation it received, he and the band restarted it and gave the crowd a few more choruses.
Anything after that was going to be anti-climactic, but he managed to stir the arena again with a rousing version of “America,” then “Heartlight,” the last Diamond song to hit No. 1 on the adult-contemporary charts (in 1982). It was another dose of sentimentality and saccharine, a call to let your heart shine and glow wherever you go, a fitting close for a performer who has kept his career illuminated for half a century.
I’m A Believer; Love on the Rocks; Hello Again; Pretty Amazing Grace; You Got to Me; Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon; Play Me; Red Red Wine; Beautiful Noise; If You Know What I Mean; Brooklyn Roads; Shilo; Nothing but a Heartache; The Art of Love; Forever in Blue Jeans; Cherry, Cherry; Morningside; Holly Holy; I Am ... I Said. Encore: Crackin’ Rosie; Sweet Caroline; America; Heartlight.