NEIL DIAMOND "LIVE": A CELEBRATION
THE 1980s & 1990s
By the time the eighties came around, Neil Diamond was an entrenched superstar, but the new decade brought about many concerns for Diamond, would he still be regarded as relevant, particularly as music trends had changed, where Synth-Pop was the norm, also new wave, and new romantics dominated the airwaves. A particular plus for Neil was his starring role in his first ever movie project, the “Jazz Singer” which would place Neil firmly back in the public eye, and bring his music to the masses. The movie project worked a treat, as whilst the movie itself received mixed reviews, Neil’s soundtrack album from the movie was a roaring success, it also helped his “Live” career no end, as Neil Diamond had accrued a whole new army of fans, who wanted to see him “Live” which maintained Diamond’s standing as the #1 concert attraction.
Neil Diamond was comfortable with his position in the music industry, no longer concerned with chart success, but to continue to write music that appealed to him and his legions of fans, he wasn’t in a hurry, there was nothing to prove. Diamond had maintained his standing as a huge international star, though no longer considered number one, he was still a big draw on the concert circuit, and it was with that in mind, he concentrated on a touring schedule throughout the nineties, rather than creating new music, that’s not to say the two original albums he put out were not worthwhile, ‘Lovescape’ and ‘Tennessee Moon’, in fact they were fabulous, but it was the touring that took precedence, so in the first half of the decade Neil Diamond embarked on the largest and most ambitious tour of his career to date, a tour where he would visit every state throughout the US, and also incorporating a wider World Tour, including Australia, and New Zealand, the mammoth tour was a huge success, which proved Diamond’s decision to undertake the tour, where he would reclaim his position as the #1 touring act in the world. - Dave Radstock
THE GREEK THEATRE - HOT AUGUST NIGHT ll 1987
In 1987 Neil Diamond returned to the Greek Theatre to perform a sequel to his highly acclaimed ‘Hot August Night’ concert of 1972, it was simply, and unimaginatively called, ‘Hot August Night ll’, however, Diamond was aware of the enormous success of the original concerts, and believed in continuing with a formula that didn’t need adjusting, and true to form, it worked. The fans turned up in their droves to witness, and be part of another performance by the legendary singer at the iconic venue. The beauty of this performance was that there was newer material to present from the original setlist.
It could be argued that this performance didn’t capture Diamond at the peak of his powers like its predecessor did, but it makes a convincing case for Diamond’s abilities as a “live” performer, and his skills as a showman, and getting a crowd excited.
Digging into his immense catalogue of songs, Diamond delivered a lively and showy performance, his vocal ability remaining strong, where the audience were in raptures with the superstar singer.
The concert included all those massive hits that featured on the original
‘Hot August Night’, but also included songs that Diamond hadn’t composed at that time. Neil also introduced a new song from Alain Boubil and
Claude-Michel Schoenberg’s Broadway smash ‘Les Miserables’, based upon the novel by Victor Hugo, the song ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ reflected the deep poverty and misery of the Parisian underclass, it was a beautiful and poignant narrative of those times just after the French Revolution, what was remarkable about Diamond’s rendition was a slight change to the end lyric, other than changing the gender pronouns, the lyrics were essentially the same as the original until the last line. The original lyric reads: “Now life has killed the dream I dreamed”, whereas Neil sang: “But life can’t kill the dream I dreamed”. By changing three words it altered the meaning of the original song from one of misery to one of hope.
Neil also composed a new song ‘Back In L.A.’ talking of the joy of touring but also of coming home again, it was a fun upbeat number of life on the road, it appeared Neil was on fine form.
Sure enough, the show would spawn a “Live” album which would capture the excitement of the concert. Whilst the album and content was an impressive package, there seemed to be something amiss with the sound mix, where some would comment that Neil sounds like he is in a sound vortex, I never got that impression myself, but I did think that it didn’t capture every nuance of sound like the original ‘Hot August Night' album.
All nitpicking aside, ‘Hot August Night ll’ is another impressive addition to Neil Diamond’s live career, and proves that despite the ever changing music trends, Neil Diamond remained a continuing constant, still able to fill arenas and sell albums like no other artist.
Whilst this concert was not part of a tour, it is relevant in the sense that it gives his fans a chance to see Neil Diamond in a “Live” setting on TV, where recordings of Neil Diamond in concert were a rarity until recent years. Filmed at the Aquarius Theatre, Los Angeles, 1988, in front of a select audience, Diamond performs his greatest hits, or so says the title of the ensuing Video/DVD, which is something of a misnomer, as there are many notable omissions, all hair splitting aside, this is a good show.
This was the time Diamond was entrenched in the safe middle of the road, cabaret period of his career, with his future successes ‘12 Songs’, and
‘Home Before Dark’, a long way off, in the dim and distant future. Nevertheless, Diamond delivers a powerful and energetic concert, with all the style and sincerity, we’ve come to know from Neil Diamond, and the audience laps it up with equal enthusiasm and energy.
GREATEST HITS LIVE 1988
The show starts with a fervent and patriotic ‘America’ which sets a lively tone, and is then followed by a wonderful rendition of ‘September Morn’ which is followed by a relatively new song, ‘I’m Alive’ from the Heartlight album, then his classic ‘Cherry Cherry’ gets the audience back on their feet, whilst Diamond still has them, he launches into ‘Sweet Caroline’ which maintains the liveliness, at the end of ‘Sweet Caroline’ he asks whether the audience is exhausted yet, and answers his own question by stating, “’Cos we’re just getting warmed up.” Which receives tumultuous applause, and looks of sheer delight from many of the ladies in the audience, from which he delivers one of the most emotional versions of ‘I Am... I Said’, where you can see the real emotion in Neil as he sings, and I am sure his eyes are welling up as the poignancy of the lyrics hit home. You could hear a pin drop throughout this song, where afterwards it receives a due ovation.
The show continues with ‘Headed For The Future’ from the album of the same name, and flicks between live performance and a video that was shot to accompany the song, territory that was alien to Neil at that time. This is followed by the lovely ‘Hello Again’ after which Neil addresses the audience and recounts when he first played at the venue, stating, “I first played at the Aquarius Theatre in December 1966, where a reviewer said, “Diamond beat a strategic retreat from the stage,” and I did, but you know, after twenty years practice, I don’t have to beat a strategic retreat anymore, I can stay up here, and people sit and listen, it’s a nice feeling.” He then continues with a warm and sincere ‘Heartlight’ it’s a wonderful moment as we see Neil as the smooth, classy and charismatic performer that he is, he then performs 'Jungletime' from the ‘Beautiful Noise’ album, which is a fabulous performance, displaying all the dramatic poses and movements that is so evidently Neil Diamond.
After a gorgeous duet of ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ with long time backing singer Linda Press, and a lively ‘Forever In Blue Jeans’. Neil moves into ballad mode with ‘Teach Me Tonight’ and a tribute to Lennon & McCartney with ‘Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End’, where Neil opened the sequence with a tribute to the late John Lennon. The finale was the gospel filled ‘Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show’, delivered dynamically by Neil, as he became the preacher “Brother Love”. There is an additional bonus track video of a newer song at that time called ‘This Time’.
All in all this is a fine concert, for fans and music lovers, and shows
Neil Diamond performing many of his finest songs, with great enthusiasm and sincerity.
Neil Diamond retains his integrity whilst performing which adds to his appeal, and to the whole experience. A solid performance, and one that can sit nicely within Neil Diamond’s “Live” career.
LIVE IN AMERICA: 1991 - 1993
The “Live In America” tour was the biggest and possibly the most ambitious tour Neil Diamond had undertaken at that time in his career, where his intention was to visit every state throughout the United states, giving fans nationwide the opportunity to see their idol live. The tour started in earnest in February 1992, and would run until December 1993, where Neil would also incorporate a European, and Australian tour. This would mean that he would be on the road for almost two years non-stop.
The tour kicked off at the Target Centre, Minneapolis, and finished at the San Jose Arena. A total of 116 shows through 1992, and a further 79 shows during 1993, with television appearances also thrown in.
It was a gruelling schedule, where Neil would state -
“The tour took a lot out of us physically, but it gave us so much back on an emotional level. It was a joy seeing the excited faces in every town and city we visited, which made the decision to present this mammoth tour worthwhile.”
At this time Neil Diamond was twenty five years into his “Live Career” and was regarded as the finest showman on the concert circuit, so tickets were snapped up within hours of going on sale.
Also at this time Neil had released two albums prior to the tour, the ‘Lovescape’ album, and his ‘Up On The Roof ', (Songs From The Brill Building) album, and was keen to showcase these on the tour.
Having listened to this album recently, I was transported back to an important phase in Neil Diamond’s career, where during that period Neil concentrated on touring in order to remain in the public domain. It could have been a gradual evolution away from the Las Vegas style that Diamond had adopted in the middle years, where in later years he would revert to singing his songs rather than the often criticised talk-singing, or hard singing that Neil adopted at that time, that is not to say the fayre on offer is not good, but I believe Neil learned how to sing again under the guidance of Rick Rubin, which was evident in his later “Live” shows, particularly his hugely acclaimed ‘50th Anniversary World Tour’.
The tour was named “Love In The Round” given that Diamond was to perform on a circular stage in the centre of the arena, giving fans a more up close view of the Superstar singer/performer. It was something to behold, resembling a circular spaceship bright lights and all, with a revolving outer platform which took the performer gently around the arena. There was also a runway leading to the centre of the stage, which would allow Neil to stand up front for the more poignant songs. With such a fabulous structure to work on, Neil Diamond didn’t disappoint, where he delivered critically acclaimed shows right across the USA, Europe, and Australia, and was rightly the top grossing tour attraction over the entire length of the tour, ahead of other big names who were touring at that time, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, to name but two that Diamond had outsold, and possibly outperformed.
The two disc “Live” album that followed the tour was released in 1994, simply entitled Neil Diamond, “Live In America” whilst this gave fans who didn’t attend any of the shows an opportunity to get a flavour of the tour, it wasn’t on the level of ‘Hot August Night’, or ‘Love At The Greek’, two sublime live albums, and it could be said, therein lay the problem, it wasn’t a live concert album in the sense as the aforementioned two albums were, and much of the issues surrounded the continuity of the tracks, where they faded out rather than flowed into one another to give
a live performance feel. Nevertheless, it sold well, possibly trading on
Neil Diamond’s immense standing as a live performer.
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Thanks and appreciation to Dave Radstock for his invaluable and infromative contributions