Neil Diamond: Feb. 26, 2011 Vector Arena, Auckland

After a week of live music from Queens Of The Stone Age, Tricky, Amanda Palmer, Gang Of Four and Don McLean, Neil Diamond may not be the hippest ticket in town, but it certainly featured the most hits. I went along to see Diamond (for the first time) expecting to know just about every song in his set, and that’s pretty much what happened.

A Neil Diamond concert is not about surprises, it’s a slick, well-paced, well-played run through of some of the best (and worst) songs from the 60s and 70s. In true melodramatic style Neil Diamond rose up on a moving platform at approximately 8:15pm just after his 14-piece band took the stage and began playing Soolaimon. Like many of the fans who filled up the Vector, Diamond looked 20 years younger than he is (he turned 70 a month ago), although a certain amount of cosmetic assistance may have been in evidence, also like many of the attending fans. No matter, Diamond was in good voice, the band was well-rehearsed and they quickly got stuck in to hits like Love On The Rocks, Forever In Blue Jeans, Play Me and Cherry, Cherry.  There were a few lesser known songs littered among the hits…the title track to the 1976 Robbie Robertson-produced album Beautiful Noise, Hello Again, from 1980’s The Jazz Singer, and Pretty Amazing Grace from his 2008 album, Home Before Dark. That was one of two songs taken from the recent albums produced by Rick Rubin; the other was Hell Yeah, from 2005’s 12 Songs. Interestingly it seemed that the lesser known songs carried more weight. Perhaps it’s because we’ve become so familiar with the hit singles, that eventually the lyrics lose their impact.

Diamond also featured to covers from his Dreams album of last year, Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine and Midnight Train To Georgia, made famous by Gladys Knight & The Pips and written by Jim Weatherly. Of the two, Midnight Train came across more believably. Earlier hits like Solitary Man, Kentucky Woman and I’m A Believer were performed in the middle of the 105 minute set, while sing-along favourites like Cracklin’ Rosie, Sweet Caroline and Holly Holy were saved for the end. The one misstep was the ultra-patriotic America, from The Jazz Singer; complete with a cringe-inducing video montage…Song Sung Blue would have been a better choice. The evening ended with a rousing version of Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, then Diamond got on his motorized platform and descended down behind the stage, waving to his fans.

This was a big, slick, production along the lines of what Elvis’ shows must have been like in the 70s. Yes, there were moments of pure corn and over-dramatic singing, but the strength of Diamond’s songs made this an entertaining, if somewhat bloodless, night of nostalgia.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to Solitary Man and Kentucky Woman performed in Auckland: 

Here’s the set list for the concert:

  1. Soolaimon
  2. Beautiful Noise
  3. Love On The Rocks
  4. Hello Again
  5. Forever In Blue Jeans
  6. Pretty Amazing Grace
  7. Play Me
  8. Cherry Cherry
  9. Solitary Man
  10. Kentucky Woman
  11. Ain’t No Sunshine
  12. Midnight Train To Georgia
  13. I’m A Believer
  14. You Don’t Bring Me Flowers
  15. Crunchy Granola Suite
  16. Sweet Caroline
  17. Cracklin’ Rosie
  18. Holly Holy
  19. Hell Yeah
  20. I Am I Said
  21. America
  22. Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show