Friday, August 15, 2008

neil diamond at madison square garden: guest review

two concerts in one week (three days, actually) for pat! after the bob dylan concert in propect park tuesday night, pat checked out neil diamond at madison square garden last night!

i'm so happy to post her concert reviews, which follows up her excellent write-up of the james taylor concert at jones beach in june.

in an interesting footnote, we ran into one of pat's colleagues from work at the bob dylan show and she attended the neil diamond concert with two more!

kick back and enjoy!

What a great Neil Diamond concert I went to last night with my good friends Diane and Ray! When Diane and Ray, who are married, asked me a few months ago if I wanted to see Neil Diamond perform in concert at Madison Square Garden in August, while my daughter was at sleep-away camp, I jumped at the chance. As a working mom who gets her daughter off to school and then sees her again at dinner time, then spends the weekend shuttling her from place to place, I relished the idea of having an adult night out, on a weeknight no less! So even though I had no Neil Diamond CDs and only knew a handful of his most popular songs from the 1970s, I immediately said, “Hell, Yeah!”

And the concert did not disappoint! In fact, seeing Neil so happy to be playing made the show even better than I’d expected! Diane and Ray had the foresight to bring binoculars, so we passed them back and forth to get a better look at Neil and his band (of course, there was also the usual big video screen to watch). Dressed in a black shirt with sequins on the back, black pants and black boots, Neil walked onto the stage followed by his incredible fourteen-member band, composed of three female back-up singers, four men in the horn section (wearing cool purple shirts), two guitarists, a percussion/conga drum player, a traditional drummer, two keyboardists, and a jack-of-all trades musician who played bass, keyboard and various other instruments. The musicians stood on six platforms which, much to our amazement, moved around between songs! It was fun watching these stages shift spots every few minutes, along with appropriate lighting changes to switch the mood from song to song. Neil himself even had a moving platform that crossed the front of the stage, allowing him to stand and move at the same time!

The band started off with Diane’s favorite song, “Holly Holy,” which she enjoyed but felt was arranged differently from how Neil had recorded it years ago. He followed that up with “Beautiful Noise,” “Streetlife,” and “Love on the Rocks,” three songs I wasn’t really familiar with but which were entertaining enough. Then came “Play Me,” a crowd-pleaser that had everyone, including me, singing the refrain, “You are the sun, I am the moon, you are the words, I am the tune, play me.” Great song!

Sitting, and sometimes standing, next to Ray was great because he knew the names of almost all the songs (Diane was on the other side of Ray, so I didn’t talk to her much during the show). I, on the other hand, didn’t know any of the tunes, but jotted down a set list anyway (which is below). After a few more of his old songs, Neil played about five relatively new songs, including a beautiful, slow ballad called, “Home Before Dark.” Listening to Neil play his acoustic guitar as the only accompaniment to his low raspy voice, I was reminded a bit of some of James Taylor’s pretty slow songs (although their voices are completely different). Soon after that, Neil talked about his upbringing in Brooklyn and how wonderful it was living with his brother, parents and extended family - - “We had love around the clock, 24/7.” Then he sang “Brooklyn Roads,” a song that couldn’t help but bring back memories of my own childhood, when my sisters and I ran around outside all afternoon and evening before being called into dinner. Next came “I am I said,” which got the crowd singing: “I’m New York City born and raised!” Even I knew the refrain (or at least most of it): “I am, I said/To no one there/And no one heard at all/Not even the chair/I am, I cried/I am, said I/And I am lost, and I can't even say why.” What a pretty song.

As a relative newcomer to Neil Diamond’s music, I was hearing so many of his songs for the first time. So when I heard one that sounded familiar, I clapped to the music and sang the refrain, feeling “with it.” For one of those songs, I jotted the title down on my set list: “Leather and Blue Jeans,” which I thought was a cool title for a song. It was only after I got home and started writing this review that I checked out his set list from someone else’s blog and saw that the name of the tune is “Forever in Blue Jeans.” Oh well. I still liked it!

The next song was certainly the highlight of the night. Within moments of the band playing the first few bars, the crowd started clapping and singing along to “Sweet Caroline.” Ray and Diane had told me that “Sweet Caroline” is played in the eighth inning of every Boston Red Sox home game. Go to this cool link to see a whole stadium singing it! and this one to read how it got started. The energy that Neil and the band created last night with that song was amazing! After about one minute, almost everyone in Madison Square Garden was standing, clapping, singing and swaying to the music. Neil was really into the crowd, urging us to sing the refrain “one more time!” - - not once, but three times in a row! By the end, everyone in our whole section - - except for the woman and man sitting next to me, drinking beer - - was standing and yelling the lyrics! What fun! (And to think that the average age in the arena was probably about 55!) Oddly, “Sweet Caroline” will always remind me of my daughter because she and I saw the 2005 movie “Fever Pitch,” starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, and there is a great scene in which they and thousands of Red Sox fans are all singing that song at the top of their lungs. We love that movie, goofy as it is.

Next came three more oldies-but-goodies. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” was sung by Neil while initially sitting with a glass of wine and a single red rose at a small white table, and then standing next to one of the female singers, who accompanied him in a pretty duet. That sad song was followed up by my two favorites. “Song Sung Blue” will always remind me of my younger sister, for some reason, and the willow trees in our neighbor’s yard (“Song sung blue/Weeping like a willow/Song sung blue/Sleeping on my pillow”). Then came his most famous upbeat song, made more famous by the Monkees. As the song began, the lights onstage turned into blue, pink and green polka dots, and the band broke into “I’m a Believer.” Then the blue, yellow and pink strobe lights began and everyone got on their feet and sang out!

After “Believer,” Neil talked a bit about how he has been traveling with the same band for thirty years and how grateful he was for the opportunity to do what he loves. That led to his singing a pretty song called “Man of God,” a gospel-like tune that was his way of saying thanks. The last song of the regular set was Ray’s favorite, “Hell Yeah,” a beautiful slow song with these lyrics: “Gonna be okay. You might get lost. But then you’ll find a way. Don’t go along. Can’t be afraid. Hell yeah. This life is here and it’s made for living. Love’s a gift that we’ve been given. Give it all away and have it still. Hell yeah. You will.” As Ray said, “it’s like Sinatra’s ‘I Did It My Way.’ ”

To a cheering crowd, Neil and the band gave us an encore with one of Diane’s favorite tunes, “Cracklin’ Rose,” a song with these memorable lyrics: “Oh, I love my rosie child/You got the way to make me happy/You and me, we go in style/Cracklin rose, you’re a store-bought woman/You make me sing like a guitar hummin’/So hang on to me, girl/Our song keeps runnin’ on/Play it now/Play it now/ Play it now, my baby.” Of course, I didn’t know anything about this song, but Ray pointed out that it’s about rose wine! Who would have guessed?

The encore continued with one of Neil’s later songs, “America,” which was accompanied by a video consisting of still photos and black-and-white home movies of immigrants coming to America. While the song painted a rosy picture of immigration, the video montage ended with a jarring photograph of the Statue of Liberty with the Twin Towers in the background. This sort of patriotic song and the incongruous photo was probably the only “false note” of the night - - it just didn’t seem to fit in with the other songs or the mood of the evening. The night ended with “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” (a title I didn’t get until I looked it up on the internet), an upbeat song with choruses of “Halle Halle!” as the refrain.

Throughout the night there were two constants. First, Neil has a strong and consistent energy for every single song - - he strutted and walked during almost every tune and even walked to the back and sides of the stage to face the audience there and sing to them. (Which reminds me: the funniest moment was when he asked the audience in the back, “Did you pay for those seats?” ) He looked to be in excellent shape (for a 67-year-old man or anyone else!). He only sat down on a stool or chair about three times during the entire night. He never seemed winded nor did he break much of a sweat (though I did notice a healthy glow on his face). In fact, in a recent New York Times article about him and his tour, which was appropriately (for this blog) titled, “The Marathon Man of Pop,” he said: “I want to know what marathon runners do . . . [b]ecause I do the same thing. I run a two-hour marathon every time onstage. So I have my electrolytes kept at a certain level, and I do my carb-loading after the shows for the next night.” His high-energy performance was really quite amazing, considering he played straight through!

Second, Neil has a sincere appreciation for the audience. He smiled and waved a big arm - - or two - - after almost every song, beaming from ear to ear and even saying, “Wonderful! Wonderful!” a few times. He clearly loves what he’s doing and probably doesn’t even consider it work. It was a pleasure to watch him having so much fun. And, I had so much fun too! Sitting and standing with my two good friends, clapping, swaying, singing and even blowing the excruciatingly loud, shrill, and high-pitched whistle my dad taught me and which I love . . . it could not have been a better night.

Set List:

Holly Holy
Beautiful Noise
Street Life
Love on the Rocks
Play Me
Cherry Cherry
Thank the Lord for the Nighttime
Home Before Dark
Don't Go There
Pretty Amazing Grace
Crunchy Granola Suite
Done Too Soon
Brooklyn Roads
I Am I Said
Solitary Man
Kentucky Woman
Forever in Blue Jeans
Sweet Caroline
You Don't Bring Me Flowers
Song Sung Blue
I'm a Believer
Man of God
Hell Yeah


Cracklin' Rose
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your commentary! I saw Neil's show twice this week. On Tuesday, I had seats in the second row on the floor for his opening show! I've been going to his concerts since about 1971, and haven't missed a NY/NJ tour yet. What a treat it was to sit so very close to the stage. We actually made eye contact a few times. :) My next goal is to somehow meet him in person. :) I just adore all his music, and even though I prefer the "oldies", there are several of his new ones that I really enjoy. "Man of God" was my favorite new one that he sang at the concert. Great song. He is such a down to earth performer, and you are right - he embraces his audience and totally appreciates their adoration. I went to his show again last night, and it was the same - great audience, lots of singalongs. His show was identical to Tuesday's. I would recommend anyone to attend his concerts. He is a one of a kind performer.