Sunday, July 08, 2012

Neil Diamond; July 8, 2012; Marcus Amphitheater, Milwaukee

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Neil Diamond, he is seventy after all, but this show was pretty much everything I expected. He didn’t take many chances, the set list was almost strictly “greatest hits,” I knew almost every song, but that was what the crowd seemed to want. In fact, judging by the crowd around us in the general admission lawn seats, they not only wanted songs they knew, but they only wanted ones they could dance to too. Every time he started a slower song the chatter doubled, which was more than a little annoying. I was delighted when the pack of overweight moms and their clueless teenagers that had been standing near us moved on. At the end of the night “Turn on your Heartlight” was the only song I could think of that he’d missed, and I didn’t miss it. The ET inspired tune (which was silly to start with) has not aged as well as he has.

Instead of a doddering old man, we got a performer. He strolled around the stage, chatting amiably in between songs, and playing guitar on more than half of them. If he seemed a bit like a ringmaster at times it was legitimate because he had fifteen musicians backing him. There were guitars and keyboards (two!), a horn section and big voiced backing singers. One of the lucky ladies behind him took center stage for the Barbara Streisand half of the heartbreaking duet “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” Another lady took center stage, if only in photos, for the encore. “Coming to America” was dedicated to his grandmother who had made the trip from Europe for a new life in the States. The tunes I enjoyed most were his early ones, the energetic “Crackling Rosie,” the meditative “Shiloh,” and the carnival-esque “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” where my sisters and I gleefully sang the lyrics one of us had misheard years ago, “Pack up the babies and crabby old ladies.”

In fact the only disappointment was that Diamond didn’t seem to know that monster sing-along “Sweet Caroline,” in addition to the “ba ba bahs” and cries of “so good, so good, so good,” is supposed to end with the chorus sang double and then triple time. Maybe the Tawnies can teach it to him. While they’re at it they could let him know that he doesn’t have to sing the correct lyrics every time. In fact, just a few familiar words is all you need and make the rest up.

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