MANCHESTER ARENA: 1st October 2017 Review

DAVE RADSTOCK

Heart-throb status is usually reserved for the beautiful people of Hollywood, not you would suspect, a greying septuagenarian, but this is no ordinary seventy something, this is music legend Neil Diamond, and how the ladies in the crowd responded when he stepped out from under the huge revolving “Diamond” displaying images of his illustrious career past, swooning, whistling, and calling out. The images gave a glimpse of the youthful Diamond, the glitzy shirted Diamond, the dynamic Diamond, beneath the chorus of ‘In My Lifetime’. Age is such a cruel master, as the slim, bearded, and almost frail looking superstar took the stage, but age be damned, as what Neil Diamond gave his adoring fans was a master-class of showmanship.

As a lifelong fan myself, I entered the arena excited at what was about to unfold, but also a little tentative about what we would actually get, given Neil’s age and how his hectic schedule may have taken its toll. I needn’t have worried, if I have learned anything about Neil Diamond, it is his penchant for tailoring the show to fit where he is at in his career, and how he delivered!

There was a distinct air of excitement in the Arena, aided by a defiance by the audience to enjoy themselves. After the horrific events at the venue in May this year, one could be forgiven in thinking that such horror would overshadow proceedings, not a chance of it, once Neil Diamond stepped out, all thoughts and fear dissipated, as he roared out “Hello Manchester!” and launched into ‘Cherry Cherry’  dressed in all black attire with silver block appliqué, Neil looked relaxed, and fit, and genuinely happy to be back in Manchester, and in excellent voice, a point made by my significant other and several other attendees.

The hits followed, ‘You Got To Me’, ‘Solitary Man’, a fabulous rendition of

‘Love On The Rocks’, with saxophone accompaniment. This wasn’t a show promoting a new album, this was a celebration of the career of a man whose music is the soundtrack of Americana, and a striking reminder of how long Diamond has loomed in pop culture. Vital as ever.

One of the most moving moments was his touching tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack at the Arena earlier this year, where Neil labelled the victims as “Fallen Angels” and how he and the Diamond family would make a donation to a “very special fund”. He continued to dedicate ‘Dry Your Eyes’ to those victims, and to Manchester, it was received with a standing ovation. The sentiment was maintained as Neil delivered a poignant reading of ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother', but quickly lifted the mood with a bouncy ‘Forever In Blue Jeans’

re-introducing guitar player Richard Bennett back into the fold, ably aided by his son, Nick Bennett. Neil introduced ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ as a song he sung as a duet with his friend Barbra, but is now inclined to perform it with Larry, relating to sax player Larry Klimas, who’s solo midway through the song was inspired, and showed that the song can stand as a singular torch song to unrequited love. The saxophone solo gave it a new depth and warmth, and it fitted perfectly.

 

Other familiar hits followed, ‘Red Red Wine’, ‘I’m a Believer’ and Neil’s trip down memory lane with ‘Brooklyn Roads’, complete with video montage of his childhood and adolescent years, this was followed by his anthem to teenage yearning, ‘Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon’ and then a highlight for me, the Jonathan Livingston Seagull segment, a beautiful journey into the solitary world of Jonathan, as he seeks his own sense of life fulfilment.

How Jonathan soared as images were projected onto the “Diamond” video screen, diving and swooping over he rugged shoreline, and azure blue skies, and then into distant sunsets. The music was majestic, Neil’s band capturing the beauty of the score, as Neil’s rich voice coated the story in velvet with his beautiful lyrics, ‘Be’, ‘Lonely Looking Sky’, and ‘Skybird’ made up the segment, and it received due rapturous applause, it was as beautiful as it was magnificent.

Following the Jonathan Seagull Suite was an apt opportunity to introduce the band, there were some notable absentees, Doug Rhone, and Hadley Hockensmith haven’t featured on this tour. Legendary drummer Ronnie Tutt was again absent through illness, but the ensemble was tight, and each member demonstrated their mastery of their own particular instrument within their own solo spot.

It was great to see the great King Errisson still beating a rhythm on his conga drums, and  the much loved Tom Hensley still tickling the ivories as enthusiastically as ever, with Julia and Maxine Waters providing gospel flavoured backing vocals, Richard Bennett, and son Nick playing guitars. 

Bill Cinque on bass, and Mark Levang on synthesiser gave wonderful examples of their expertise. A young man from Liverpool sat in for Ron Tutt on drums, where Neil assured his family that he was being looked after, he is eating well and sleeping, and that we are happy to have him play for us. The always impressive brass section, known as the “Horn Dogs” Larry Klimas, Don Markese, Arturo Velasco, and John Fumo completed the tight knit family of musicians. They played

‘Jazz Time’ from the ‘September Morn’ album.  The Hot August Night section followed, with the always poignant ‘I Am...I Said’, and then the encore of ‘Sweet Caroline’, ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’, and ‘Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show’ brought the show to its conclusion.

Fifty years ago when Lyndon Johnson occupied the White House, a 26 year old college dropout from Brooklyn started gaining recognition for song-writing, back then no-one listened to the hit-makers of fifty years earlier, Fifty years on from his beginnings Neil Diamond has pulled off something of a coup, he has toured the world endlessly, and his popularity hasn’t budged, he has managed not just to endure, but to thrive.

The eminently likeable inoffensive singer-songwriter was in his element on stage, telling stories of his long life, talking candidly about his dreams of stardom, and appearing genuinely thankful, evidently gracious towards his band and the Arena full of fans who had paid a pretty penny to see him live. Neil Diamond has his critics, but his fans understand him, he has a sincerity sceptics often miss. Age has favoured him, where his chief virtue is a romantic belief in the American dream.

What Neil Diamond gave us Sunday night, was a hope for the future, where in

a chaotic world with an unfamiliar present, there is something still vaguely comforting and alluring about a bridge between the distant past and a not wholly foregone future, a nostalgic journey taken with a Troubadour still travelling the mighty world of freedom.

SET LIST:

  • In My Lifetime

  • Cherry Cherry

  • You Got To Me

  • Solitary Man

  • Love On The Rocks

  • September Morn

  • Play Me

  • Song Sung Blue

  • Beautiful Noise

  • Jungletime

  • Dry Your Eyes

  • He Ain’t Heavy... He’s My Brother

  • Forever In Blue Jeans

  • You Don’t Bring Me Flowers

  • Red Red Wine

  • I’m A Believer

  • Brooklyn Roads

  • Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon

  • Be

  • Lonely Looking Sky

  • Skybird

  • Band Intro (Jazz Time)

  • Crunchy Granola Suite

  • Done Too Soon

  • Holly Holy

  • I Am...I Said

 

ENCORE

  • Sweet Caroline

  • Cracklin' Rosie

  • Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show

Footnote: Neil was very sprightly, he was classy, not having to overly exert himself in order to convey the passion in his songs, I have seen Neil many, many times,

and I must say, this was his best performance for a few years. I do believe his new found happiness is a factor in his resurgence, where contrary to initial beliefs,

he could well do another tour, health prevailing etc... His voice was in fine fettle, smooth, rich and strong, in that instantly recognisable tone, that is unmistakably

Neil Diamond. The concert was a triumph for the fans, but a greater triumph for Neil Diamond himself, which justifies his decision to take to the road for this special milestone in his career.

Thanks and appreciation to Dave Radstock for his brilliant review; the only review from a True Believer