The holiday season and the recent release of an album of ’60s rock standards provide plenty of special material for Neil Diamond’s tour, currently moored at the Great Western Forum. Add numerous visual effects and a booting horn section, and the result may be one of Diamond’s best shows in years.
Long stands at the Forum are typical of Diamond — this one spreads four shows over five nights. Concert is performed in the round, providing closer-than-usual proximity for the audience as Diamond, his band and singers ply their wares on a rotating, circular stage.
Show begins with a number of Diamond standards, segues neatly into sections of songs from the current “Up on the Roof” and Diamond’s Christmas album, then ends with another set of sure-fire Diamond hits — ending abruptly, Thursday night, without the traditional “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” finale.
Musical highlights include Afro-inspired “Soolaimon” blending into “Holly Holy”; presence of horns on “I Thank the Lord for the Night Time” (featuring swell guitar solo by Hadley Hockensmith), “I’m a Believer” and “Sweet Caroline”; and revivals of vintage “You Got to Me,””Lady-Oh” and “And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind.”
Christmas and oldies segments vary with the material. Generally, the most effective songs are the more dramatic ones. Whimsy isn’t Diamond’s strong suit: In his intense versions, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “Save the Last Dance for Me” could be threats, and “Up on the Roof” sounds like an invitation to a gang fight.
Duets of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” with backup singer Raven Kane are more like it, as is most of Diamond’s original material.
Some time after the Christmas segment, Diamond leads a parade of his singers and musicians around the stage as he sings “Hava Nagilah.”
Ambitious use of Vari-Lites and lasers is most effective, occasionally spreading patterns, such as snowflakes, over the stage and audience — other times, simply enhancing the drama of the occasion.
But certainly the most impressive effect, nearly worth the price of admission in its own right, is a huge electrified Christmas tree, suspended something like 20 feet above the stage and changing colors many times instantaneously during the mid-show sequence of holiday material.
It should also be noted: live sound is at least the equal of any that’s been heard in the Forum, a credit to Diamond’s crew and a challenge to anybody else who plays the cavernous hall.