Diamond Sparkles in Familiar Gems
By Joan Anderman, Globe Staff, 10/3/2001
Neil Diamond gave 20,000 fans more than the gift of familiar song Tuesday night. During more than two hours of soothing balladry and uplifting pop, he offered the possibility that some things haven't changed.
Diamond is the rarest of modern songwriters: both a craftsman and an optimist. His concert spanned the infectious bop of ''I'm a Believer'' - a hit for the Monkees 35 years ago and a hit for Smashmouth in 2001 - to ''I Believe in Happy Endings'' - from this year's ''Three Chord Opera,'' the singer/songwriter's 45th album. If his songs drift toward the far end of the schmaltz spectrum, so be it. A good dose of old-fashioned earnestness has suddenly become more gratifying than grating.
It was no surprise when an overture-style swell of strings signaled the start of ''America.'' With a half-dozen American flags adorning the spare stage, Diamond and his 17-piece band brought the audience to a cheering, singing peak on the first song. ''I hear that music has the power to heal,'' he said. ''If that's so, let the healing begin.'' The warmth and energy hardly flagged for the rest of the night, despite the fact that the set was front-loaded with his best material. Mournful ''Solitary Man,'' which featured four-piece horn and string sections, the retro-gem ''Cherry Cherry,'' ''Red Red Wine'' - the first half played as doleful ballad, the second slipping into UB40's reggae version - and ''I'm a Believer'' were performed in the first 15 minutes.
Diamond's catalog, while filled with more than his share of immortalized tunes, is wildly uneven. ''Beautiful Noise'' is an intolerably hokey number, made even cheesier by thousands of hands clapping. Some of the new songs are formulaic: ''The Best Part of Me'' was strictly paint-by-numbers. ''At the Movies,'' a tribute to cinematic escapism, was bland.
Diamond is a restrained and unassuming performer, the one concession to glitz being his trademark glass-beaded, billowing blouse. He could afford to be understated: at 60, Diamond's voice still has depth, tone, and pitch. He underlined lyrics with an occasional sweep of the hand, a fist in the air for punctuation, and a few spry, sideways shuffles. And his finest songs stood on their own. ''Holly Holy'' took on the air of a revival, and ''Sweet Caroline'' inspired such unbridled nostalgia, with the bittersweet refrain of ''good times never seemed so good,'' Diamond orchestrated three raucous endings. Even his midlife crisis material - ''You Don't Bring Me Flowers'' (performed in duet with one of his background singers who gamely took Streisand's parts) and the misty dirge ''Love on the Rocks'' - redeemed themselves with a fading brand of dignified emotionality that felt just right at this particular moment in time.